Thursday, April 30, 2009

Windows 7 RC Gets Its Official Release

As promised, on Thursday Microsoft released the Release Candidate build (7100) to MSDN and TechNet subscribers at http://technet.microsoft.com. The fact that it's been available on P2P sites for about a week should in no way embarrass Microsoft.

Just to be clear, unless you are downloading from the aforementioned P2P sites, the build is only available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers. If you already have a beta key, that key will work. If not, Microsoft has previously said "not to worry."

The RC release will be available at least through June 2009, and they're not limiting the number of product keys. Of course, they said that when they accidently leaked the RC web page, but oh, well.

The public will get its first official look at official Windows 7 RC download next week, on May 5th.

Nicely, the RC build will work for about 13 months. That's right, Microsoft will give users until June 1st, 2010 to run the darn thing. That's pretty generous.

Here are the highlights and system requirements for Windows 7 RC, as noted by Microsoft in a press release on Thursday:

Windows 7 RC Reflects New Advancements

New to the Windows 7 RC are advancements such as Remote Media Streaming, Windows XP Mode (beta) and the upcoming beta of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor:
  • Remote Media Streaming. Enables highly secure, remote Internet access to home-based digital media libraries from another Windows 7-based PC outside the home.
  • Windows XP Mode. Utilizing Windows Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode allows Windows 7 users to run many Windows XP productivity applications, launched right from the Windows 7 desktop. Windows XP Mode will be available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate customers via download or, for the best experience, pre-installed directly on new PCs. As part of today’s announcement, Microsoft is releasing the beta of Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC. For larger businesses where management is important to reduce the total cost of ownership, Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) within MDOP adds management to Windows Virtual PC including centralized policy, administration experience and deployment.
  • Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. To help enable a smooth transition, Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor will help people analyze their PCs in preparation for a Windows 7 upgrade. Available soon, Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor will be a downloadable tool that will help people determine their ability to upgrade from their Windows XP-based or Windows Vista-based PC to Windows 7.
In addition, a number of enhancements were made to existing features based on feedback from beta testers, including the following:
  • Refined navigation. Several enhancements to the Windows taskbar, JumpLists and search make navigation and finding exactly what you want much easier.
  • Internet Explorer 8. InPrivate browsing in Internet Explorer 8 prevents browsing history, temporary Internet files, form data, cookies, and usernames and passwords from being retained by the browser. With Windows 7, you can start an InPrivate session straight from the JumpList. You can also open a new tab from the JumpList.
  • Windows Touch. Controlling the computer by touching a touch-enabled screen or monitor is a core Windows 7 user experience. Improvements in the RC include several Windows Touch updates, including the ability to drag, drop and select items with touch, even inside Web sites that scroll both horizontally and vertically.
System Requirements for Windows 7

With the RC, Microsoft is also providing guidance on the minimum system requirements for Windows 7, showing that Windows 7 will work on a broader array of hardware than any other release of Windows at launch:
  • 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB of RAM (32-bit)/2 GB of RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit)/20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model 1.0 or higher driver
Watch a video that Microsoft has produced outlining the new RC features:

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Palm's AT&T WebOS Device Revealed: Eos

Expecting the Pre to eventually come to AT&T? It may not, but a different, and decidedly more affordable device may. AT&T WebOS device won't be the Pre, or at least, not only the Pre. The new device: the Palm Eos.

The Eos has been exposed via enGadget, and to be honest, I'm glad I can finally talk about it. For a variety of conflict-of-interest reasons, I couldn't talk about this, but this is real. It's Centro-ish in looks, but it's all Palm WebOS underneath. Yes, the keyboard looks like a Centro's keyboard as well, which if it were, would be a pain. My understanding is it's more Palm Treo Pro-like in actual performance, however.
  • 4GB storage
  • Quad-band GSM/HSDPA
  • 55mm (W) x 111mm (L) x 10.6mm (D)
  • Price: $349 (pre-rebate)
  • Camera: 2 megapixel fixed focus digital camera and flash / video capture
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 2.1 w/ A2DP and EDR, USB 2.0 via micro USB
  • Removable 1150 mAh battery (4 hours 3G talk time)
  • Messaging: SMS, MMS (picture and video only), integrated IM client
  • Contact sync with AT&T Address Book
  • MediaNet
  • Cellular Video
  • Email: POP3, IMAP4, and EAS support
  • A-GPS
  • Audio: WAV, MP3, AAC, AAC+ ringtones
  • Video Playback: MPEG4, H.264, H.263
The thinness is impressive. A Centro is about 54mm (W) x 107mm (L) x 18.5mm (D). My information says that after subsidy, this device will be a very affordable and very tempting $99.

Bad news for Sprint? Not necessarily. The Eos will be GSM, Pre is CDMA; this is a low-end device, Pre is higher end. It would be really bad news for Sprint if Pre came to AT&T.

At any rate, word is Sprint has exclusivity for six months; this device would likely appear right around Christmas, given that.
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Facebook Hit by Second Phishing Scam in Two Days

The more popular something is, the more people want to use it as a way to scam people. An example would be the recent swine flu related spam attacks, and these are phishing scams that sends Facebook users to fake login sites (today fbstarter.com, yesterday fbaction.net).

While fbaction.net has been taken down, go to fbstarter.com and it com sure looks like a lot like some sort of Facebook login page, doesn't it (see attached pic)?

What's happening is people are getting "Facebook messages" supposedly from other users that basically just say "Look at this" and have the link that takes them to fbstarter.com. Once you enter your username / password there, you've basically delivered your login credentials to the scammer.

Now, fbstarter.com sure looks suspiciously like fbaction.net. Personally, if you're alert to the important aspects of watching out for phishing, such as:
  • Don't use links delivered in emails or IM to login to any site
  • If you do, make sure the site's URL looks like what you are expecting
  • Email the site / organization / business in question if you are unsure
then you should be pretty safe.

Of course, while some (not me) store credit cards information in their Facebook account, most of the information for a credit card is redacted anyway (though I suppose a scammer could use your credit card to buy something on the site).

The main reason, I would think, that scammers would want your login info is because many people use the same login info everywhere. Definitely a bad idea, but something many people do.

If you've fallen for either of these phishing scams already, change your Facebook password immediately (if the scammers haven't already locked you out). And, if that's happened and it's the same password you use for your Amazon.com, eBay, or other types of accounts, you could be in big trouble.

Interested in learning about avoiding phishing scams? I wrote earlier about a free online game developed by Carnegie-Mellon that teaches how to avoid it. Check it out.
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Pre to Cost Palm $170 to Build

Showing that the hype has even affected them, iSuppli on Wednesday released a "virtual teardown" of the Palm Pre, not bothering to wait for an actual device.

Based on iSuppli estimates that rely on a Mobile Handset Cost Model, as well as experts in memory, displays, baseband, component pricing, mobile handsets and wireless connectivity, the cost of the Pre for Palm comes to $170.02.

Tina Teng, senior analyst, wireless communications, for iSuppli said:
"The similarity in features between the Pre and the iPhone clearly reveals the mark Palm is trying to hit.

"The use of a multi-touch screen—a key allure of the iPhone—and Palm’s innovative webOS operating system, are likely to allow the pre to appeal to a broad range of consumers, going far beyond the company’s core group of business-oriented customers."
Last year iSuppli tore down a real iPhone 3G and came up with a cost of $173 for the device.

iSuppli seems to also think this could be the rebound device that Palm has been waiting for. Teng said:
"Palm has been known for years for its touch screen enabled PDA devices, its easy to use, simple operating system and its Treo smart phone product line. However, just a glance at the Pre at CES has changed the industry’s opinions about Palm, showing it is a company that can be competitive with Apple iPhone or any other leading-edge product in the global smart phone market."
iSuppli projects Palm will charge Sprint $300 for the Pre, but that Sprint will charge customers $200, after the carrier subsidy. That price would be pretty consistent with the iPhone, but one has to wonder what Apple has up its sleeve for WWDC, and if it will introduce the rumored cheaper device that could steal all of Pre's thunder.
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Twitter Churn Rate High: Report

On Wednesday, Nielsen Wire released a report on the state of Twitter growth. Well, growth is good, Twitter's churn rate is high, so getting people to stay is Twitter's next challenge.

Among social networking services, Twitter is among the lowest as far as retention goes. For example, both Facebook and MySpace have about 70% retention currently. Twitter is at 40%. According to Neilsen, for most of the past 12 months, it's been below 30% retention.

Admittedly, Twitter is still nascent, compared to Facebook and MySpace, but Neilsen takes that into account. During similar periods in their growth phases, both services had approximately double the numbers that Twitter had / has at the same stage.

Definitely something to watch, but not necessarily something to be concerned with --- yet. But Twitter will have to lower the churn rate in the future. Interestingly, Neilsen made sure to highlight its own Twitter stream at the end of the press release.
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Swedish ISPs to Delete Customer Traffic Records

In the wake of a downturn in web traffic since the IPRED law went into effect in Sweden, at least three Swedish ISPs have decided to blunt the force of that law, by deleting all customer traffic data.

IPRED, or Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, allows copyright owners to force ISPs to reveal details of users sharing files. However, no stored data would mean no threat to downloaders, obviously.

IPRED's impact on Swedish web traffic has been significant, with a 1/3 drop in traffic, according to Royal Pingdom. While ISPs in the U.S. are implicitly saying we use too much bandwidth (via broadband caps), ISPs Tele2, All Tele and Bahnhof have all decided to erase user traffic data.

One might wonder if, with IPRED in effect, this might be against the law, but it's not. The E.U. is a lot more antsy about privacy, and in fact, European law on "the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector" states the following:
Such data may only be stored to the extent that is necessary for the provision of the service for the purpose of billing and for interconnection payments, and for a limited time. Any further processing of such data which the provider of the publicly available electronic communications services may want to perform, for the marketing of electronic communications services or for the provision of value added services, may only be allowed if the subscriber has agreed to this on the basis of accurate and full information given by the provider of the publicly available electronic communications services about the types of further processing it intends to perform and about the subscriber’s right not to give or to withdraw his/her consent to such processing. Traffic data used for marketing communications services or for the provision of value added services should also be erased or made anonymous after the provision of the service.
In other words, the ISPs can get rid of the data when they want to, and should only keep it as long as necessary for billing and the like. In fact, this law states they should get rid of the data ASAP.

The industry has immediately responded to this, with lawyer Peter Danowsky who represented the IFPI in the Pirate Bay case, saying:
"It's astonishing that someone who claims to be a serious communication operator wants to assist in crime, which is implied by what they (ISPs) are doing."
Don't expect this to end the issue (not that you did anyway). It does make one wonder, however, if subscribers will start moving to Tele2, All Tele and Bahnhof.
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Steve Jobs Not Strong Enough to Attend Town Council Meeting: Lawyer

According to the lawyer representing him, two-thirds into his medical leave, Steve Jobs was not strong enough to attend a town council meeting that might last late into the night. Jobs has been trying to get permission to demolish the 84-year-old Santa Barbara-style Spanish colonial that he bought in 1984.

Howard Ellman told the Woodside town council:
"I don't think he would be strong enough if we were here until 1 AM, and I think there's a strong possibility of that."
After missing Macworld, Steve Jobs admitted the medical issues that kept him from attending the trade show were more than originally thought, and indicated he would be taking a leave of absence through the end of June.

Hopes had been that Jobs might return early so he could attend WWDC, but that sounds like something that's not going to happen, now, if he can't attend a relatively short town council meeting.

While Jobs wants to demolish the mansion, many want to preserve it, calling it an architectural treasure. It should be pretty clear that Jobs certainly has the financial resources to restore the mansion, but does he in fact want to? It seems like the answer is no.

During the meeting, Jobs' team returned to the town council with detailed cost projections for restoration prepared by consultants. The restoration would cost $13.3 million, they said, which is $5.1 million more than the planned new home.

In my humble view, $5 million for Steve Jobs is basically $5 to me. Essentially next to nothing.

At the same time, others pressed the town council to get estimates on moving the house, rather than demolishing it. Clotilde Luce, who lived in the Jackling house in her childhood and is now a Florida resident, said that Jobs has not made good on his obligation to try to find someone willing and able to restore the house.

A final decision is expected at a future council meeting.

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Palm to Intro the Pre the Day Before WWDC?

I've said before that introducing the Palm Pre after WWDC would be bad for Palm, as by then the hype over the new iPhone and iPhone OS 3.0 will make excitement over the Pre announcement, ahem, rather subdued.

It now appears that rumors of a mid-May launch of the Palm Pre may be false, but there is now another date given, leaked at SprintGuys, of June 7th.

Before you say, "but that's a Sunday," yeah, it is, but Sprint has never been shy about using Sunday for launch dates. Here's what was said in the post:
For those asking about the Pre, there are 2 release windows, one is around 6/7/09 - the other I cannot say much on.
June 7th is one day before WWDC. The question is, would a 24 hour window give Palm much traction? Or would it be largely lost in the WWDC news shuffle? It's doubtful that it would work the other way, meaning Palm Pre buzz drowning out WWDC.

As far as the second release window, it's possible that's still mid-May, or it could simply be June 30th, the last day of Q2 2009, which is when Palm and Sprint promised to launch the phone.

Unfortunately, this launch seems to be as secret as say, an Apple launch. Hopefully, Palm / Sprint will open up soon.
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Spammers, Phishers, Take Advantage of Swine Flu

Typical of any such crises, whether its the aftermath of an even such as an earthquake, or in this case, the swine flu, phishers and spammers are taking advantage of the situation.

Symantec reports on spam that seems designed to simply gather email addresses and phone numbers for a future campaign perhaps.

As shown above, one example contains a subject line that says "Suspected Mexican flu toll hits 81." It asks recipients if they are located in Mexico or the U.S. and if they know anyone affected by the flu. Recipients are also asked to provide personal information, either by going to a Web site and filling out a form or by replying to the e-mail with their e-mail address, mailing address, and phone number.

McAfee's Avert Labs has its own warning, about similar spam messages. This are more typical of the ones you see selling Viagra.

Finally, US-CERT (United Staes Computer Emergency Readiness Team) has its own warning about spam and phishing.

Let's be honest: these sorts of scams are inevitable when something like this comes around. People panic, and the Internet, which has become a major source of information for just about anything, becomes a way for spammers and scammers to phish, spam, or even distribute malware.

Just exercise caution, and if you need to, check out this anti-phishing lesson I wrote about earlier.
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Windows Vista SP2 Goes RTM

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it has released Windows Vista / Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 (SP2) to manufacturing.

The new service pack, combined for both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, will be released sometime in Q2 2009, Microsoft indicated. Highlights of the changes, many of which have already been delivered separately, include:
  • Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches
  • Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones.
Microsoft has a more detailed look at the changes in a "notable changes document" on TechNet.

Microsoft also used the blog post announcement to emphasize the benefits of adopting Windows Vista, as the transition to Windows 7 will be, as Microsoft said, "more straightforward."
Business customers with Windows Vista will find that the transition from Windows Vista to Windows 7 will be significantly more straightforward due to the high degree of compatibility between Windows Vista and Windows 7. If your Windows Vista SP1 deployment is already underway we recommend you continue with SP1 as planned. Then you can deploy SP2 using your systems management infrastructure. If you are in the early stages of deployment or still planning Windows Vista deployment our best advice is that you plan on testing and deploying Windows Vista SP2.
At the same time, Microsoft said it has removed the Windows Vista SP1 Service Pack Blocker Tool, and that for customers who previously had the blocker tool in place, Windows Vista SP1 will now be offered to them via Windows Update.
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The World Goes All a-Twitter As Google News Begins Tweets

Acknowledging what we already know, that Twitter is too useful for words, particularly in the area of breaking news, Google announced on Tuesday it was beginning to tweet stories from Google News via its own stream.

Of course, this could mean a severe impact to your SMS quota, one might think, if they tweeted every news story, so they're not. They say they are only doing so with the "top" stories, and right now if you look at their feed there's not that much there.

In fact, right now the latest story is 2 hours old.

At any rate, it's still another reason to get Twitter, isn't it? After all, if Sally Forth or as the strip calls it, "two middle-aged moms" are discussing it, it's gotta mean something.

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Microsoft's Vine: Crisis Updates via Social Networking

It's not ready for prime time yet, but this would be the perfect sort of app to handle updates on the swine flu outbreak which is sweeping across the globe. Microsoft on Tuesday announced a new private beta, of a product called Vine. Vine is sort of social networking, but focused on keeping you, your friends, and family in touch during emergencies. The beta test starts in Seattle.

Further beta testing will begin soon in an unnamed rural Midwest community as well as an unnamed isolated island community.

As I've written previously, Twitter and SMS are great ways to communicate during an emergency as text messages piggyback on the signal and use very little bandwidth.

Microsoft's Vine is aimed to help in such crises, as well, but it's more than just an emergency system. Think of it as social networking with a twist.
Use the dashboard to know what’s happening. Information associated with the places you have chosen will appear on your map, including articles from 20,000 news and public safety sources. Information from people you care about, such as alerts and reports, will appear on the dashboard too.

Send and receive alerts. Organize people into groups - the sports team you coach, people who live nearby, family far away, special friends, and emergency contacts. Each person defines how they want to receive alerts – through e-mail, a text message, or on their computer. Reach them quickly using alerts.

Post reports. You decide what you want to share with whom, and then the information is sent directly to their personal dashboard. Check in safe and well to let your family know you are okay, let trusted neighbors know you’re headed out of town, keep people informed of situations that matter, or share general information like the team practice schedule for the week.
On your computer, you download the dashboard application, and login with your Windows Live ID (yes, you can't get away from Windows Live). The UI is a map (as shown above); geo-tagged notifications pop-up if a news story or public safety announcement (PSA) happens in locations you specify.

Meanwhile, your contacts are on your dashboard as well, and you can view alerts that they've sent you. You specify how you want to receive alerts: via PC, text messages, or email. You can also "check in" yourself via the dashboard, text message, or email, to let people know you are OK in the event of some emergency.

It all sounds very useful, and according to the Seattle Times, came about as a reaction to Hurricane Katrina:
Inspiration for Vine came from the confusion during Hurricane Katrina. Tammy Savage, a Microsoft manager who has led experimental Web efforts for the company, spent two years researching technologies for communities to communicate and prepare for emergencies. That led to a concept Microsoft calls "societal networking."
Watch Microsoft's demo video for Vine:

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time's World's Most Influential Person is a Moot Point

This should probably be the last year that Time Magazine holds its Time 100 Poll for the World's Most Influential Person, if it can't do a better job at stopping hacking than this. With the poll obviously gamed, the results are moot, and so is the winner. Really, the winner is "moot."

The winner of the 2009 poll is "moot" (AKA, Christopher Poole), college student and founder of the online community 4chan.org. This was pretty obviously an organized hack by 4chan members to stuff the ballot box and raise his rank. In fact, Music Machinery writes in great deal of the hack, as revealed him by "Zombocom" in an IRC chat room.

"moot" received 16,794,368 votes and an average influence rating of 90 (out of a possible 100). Time demonstrates his influence on the web (perhaps the word "poll" could be substituted for "web") by saying:
For proof of moot's influence on the Web, one need look no further than the TIME 100 poll results. While Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao got a larger vote total (20,391,818), the runner-up for the title of World's Most Influential Person, Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim, received a mere 47 on the influence scale.
Time also added, tongue planted firmly in cheek:
To put the magnitude of the upset in perspective, it's worth noting that everyone moot beat out actually has a job.
To make the hack even more obvious, the first letters of the top 21 finalists in the poll spell out "Marblecake, also the game." Marble cake is reportedly the name of the chat room the website's users have used to organize Project Chanology, its anti-Scientology campaign.

To finish with a flourish, TIME.com managing editor Josh Tyrangiel says "moot" is no less deserving than previous title holders like Nintendo video-game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (2007) and Korean pop star Rain (2006).
"I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll. Doubting the results is kind of the point."
Yep, this is less about influence and more about popularity, and this year, popularity on 4chan.
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Amazon.com Acquires Lexcycle, Stanza E-book App

On Monday, Amazon.com acquired Lexcycle and its Stanza e-book application for the iPhone and iPod touch. This just shows despite releasing its own Kindle e-book reader for the iPhone and iPod touch about 1 1/2 months ago, Amazon.com is not going to stand pat in the e-book space.

There's no press release by Amazon.com, and only a short Lexcycle blog post, so we're left with many questions, such as how this affects Amazon's own Kindle e-book reader, the price of the acquisition, things like that. In the blog post, Lexcycle said:
We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.
Besides Lexcycle's iPhone and iPod touch apps, the company also has desktop readers for Windows and Mac, which Amazon currently doesn't have. Unlike the Kindle, Stanza uses the "epub" format, an open standard supported by the International Digital Publishing Forum that many publishers use to create e-books.

Additionally, you can browse --- and buy --- directly from both the mobile and desktop versions of Stanza. One criticism of the Kindle iPhone app was the need to buy through a desktop browser.

Is Amazon going to continue to have two different, and competing e-book apps in its catalog, or is it going to kill one and just use the Stanza development team to improve the Kindle app, which many have classified as "basic?" Time will tell.
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Flip Video Ultra HD Intro'ed (Sort Of)

Pure Digital, recently acquired by Cisco, just introduced an HD version of its Ultra camcorder. Well, not really. Actually, Best Buy introduced it for them, by putting the devices out for sale before Pure Digital had a chance to put out its own press release.

In fact, if you look on the Flip Video site, you won't find any mention of the Flip Video Ultra HD, at least at the time of this writing. However, Gary Cannon of GaxOnline managed to buy one at a local Best Buy.

The Flip line of camcorders have become the #1 camcorders in the time since they were introduced. While not including extras like zoom, they're the perfect camcorders to carry around for spontaneous videos.

The Flip Video Ultra HD will sell for $199.99 (OK, OK, $200), which is $30 less than the Flip Mino HD. The new Flip will include an HDMI output, 120 minutes of record time (up from 60 minutes on previous models, including the Flip Mino HD), a removable, rechargeable battery (ahem, Apple) and support for AA batteries if necessary.

I have a Flip Mino, but I can't wait to get my hands on one of these new Ultras.
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U.K. Wants All Internet, Phone Use Tracked

The good news is the U.K. has decided against a government database tracking all Internet and phone use. The bad news is, they still want it done, but by the private sector.

Cost is the issue with the government doing it itself; why bother when you can simply require the private sector to do so, right? Research from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's department estimated that the proposal would have cost the government £2 billion to implement.

That said, Smith said that doing nothing was not an option. The data stored, according to Smith, would not include the content of such communication, but instead the "who, when, where and how" of the communication. She added:
"Communications data is an essential tool for law enforcement agencies to track murderers, paedophiles, save lives and tackle crime.

"Advances in communications mean that there are ever more sophisticated ways to communicate and we need to ensure that we keep up with the technology being used by those who seek to do us harm.

"It is essential that the police and other crime fighting agencies have the tools they need to do their job, However to be clear, there are absolutely no plans for a single central store."
As opposition legislators tried to remind people, the U.K. government doesn't have all that great a history of "hanging on to" data, as indicated by several instances of data loss.

The fact that the U.K. government is essentially outsourcing its data storage doesn't really leave people with a good feeling either, based on comments made by, for example, Conservative home affairs spokesman Chris Grayling, who said:
"The big problem is that the government has built a culture of surveillance which goes far beyond counter-terrorism and serious crime. Too many parts of government have too many powers to snoop on innocent people and that's really got to change."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said:
"I am pleased that the Government has climbed down from the Big Brother plan for a centralized database of all our emails and phone calls. However, any legislation that requires individual communications providers to keep data on who called whom and when will need strong safeguards on access.

"It is simply not that easy to separate the bare details of a call from its content. What if a leading business person is ringing Alcoholics Anonymous, or a politician's partner is arranging to hire a porn video?

"There has to be a careful balance between investigative powers and the right to privacy."
Readers, what do you think? How long before everything we do everywhere is tracked, or is that already happening, and we just don't know it?

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IBM Set to Take on "Jeopardy!"

Not satisfied with winning chess matches against humans, IBM is set to take on the game show "Jeopardy!"

According to a Monday press release, IBM has been (over the last two years) developing a question-answer system it has dubbed "Watson." Researchers believe that "Watson" will be able to understand complex questions and answer with enough precision and speed to compete on Jeopardy!

In fact, "understanding" will be the key. Definitely "Watson" could "chime in" before a human could, but assuming that all things are equal and "Watson" has to hear or "read" the question, it's understanding a natural language question that will be at the heart of the system's performance.

Samuel J. Palmisano, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, said:
“The essence of making decisions is recognizing patterns in vast amounts of data, sorting through choices and options, and responding quickly and accurately. Watson is a compelling example of how the planet – companies, industries, cities – is becoming smarter. With advanced computing power and deep analytics, we can infuse business and societal systems with intelligence. This project is the latest example of IBM’s longstanding commitment to fundamental research and to overcoming ‘grand challenges’ in science and technology.”
Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, CEO and President, Sony Corporation said:
"Jeopardy! is a world-renowned Sony property, and the gold standard for savvy game players everywhere. It is the perfect platform on which IBM can demonstrate its computing power. Winning on Jeopardy! is a challenge that audiences embrace every night in record numbers, and we are delighted to be able to expand the form and the possibilities through this exciting new project.”
I'd like to see "Watson" take on Ken Jennings, if they are going to do this. Watch the announcement in a video "hosted" by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek:

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Twitter Gets Its Due As CDC Tweets Swine Flu Updates

Now if only Twitter could come up with a business model, as once again, in an emergency, though perhaps not one as acute as a terrorist attack, it proves its usefulness.

The CDC is using Twitter to spread the word on swine flu. The CDC is using @CDCemergency, to broadcast updates on cases and tips on how to avoid swine flu.

The CDC isn't the only one tweeting away; as I indicated yesterday Healthmap is also provided updates via Twitter.

On Monday, the European Union advised travelers to avoid non-essential trips to the U.S. and Canada. At the same time, the World Health Organization raised the alert level for the swine flu to 4, which:
is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic.
Level 6 would mean a pandemic.

Mexico upped the death toll attributable to the swine flu to 149 on Monday, as well.
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Apple, Verizon in iPhone Talks: Report

While AT&T definitely wants to keep the iPhone to itself for as long as possible, that doesn't necessarily mean Apple echoes that desire. Source close to Verizon and Apple say the two companies are discussing the possible development of an iPhone for Verizon, with a target of next year.

However, the 2010 date as posited by the USA Today doesn't make sense if AT&T has iPhone exclusivity until 2010, as has previously been rumored (neither AT&T nor Apple has been open on that). AT&T is pursuing extending that agreement until 2011, as I previously wrote.

It's also true that the best chance for this partnership to go into place would be as Verizon rolls out its new LTE network, which is slated to begin trials later this year and push into as many as 25 - 30 Verizon markets by 2010.

Much like GSM, LTE is a global standard, and thus would Apple to sell the same version of its device across the planet, with one caveat (a big one). LTE covers only the data portion of device connectivity. Apple would still have to produce a CDMA version for voice (can you hear me now?), which would increase its costs as well as limit the usefulness of the device globally. Well, if you want to make phone calls anyway.

Verizon has shipped many "world phones," which work on CDMA in the U.S. and have a SIM for the rest of the world, so that's a possibility, but it does make the phone more complex and hence more expensive.

Still, let's not discount just how many iPhone users have been dissatisfied with the AT&T network and would consider jumping to Verizon. And while a loss for AT&T, that would be a win for Apple: they'd have to buy a new iPhone.
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Track the Swine Flu Outbreak Online

On Sunday, the U.S. declared the recent swine flu outbreak a "public health emergency." At least 20, and perhaps as many as 81 deaths in Mexico have been attributed to this new strain of flu, which is actually a combination of avian, human, and swine flu.

Twenty swine flu cases have been confirmed in the U.S., but not deaths. Its unclear, even to health officials, why the cases in the U.S. have been milder.

You can track the spread of the swine flu as well as receive updates in a number of ways. First, Google Maps user Niman, whose profile says simply "Biomedical Research, Pittsburgh, PA, USA", has created this Google My Map of the current Swine Flu outbreak (below).


View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map
Healthmap is giving updates via Twitter.

In addition, Healthmap has a map of global disease outbreaks, pulling news from different sources to generate the map. Tip: the map by default doesn't just show flu outbreaks; to change the setting go into the "Diseases, last 30 days" section of the LH sidebar and check only influenza.

Additionally, the CDC and WHO are also obvious places to look for outbreak information.

Finally, you can also set up news alerts via Google or Yahoo!. Or you can just roll CNN or MSNBC's sites.

At any rate, right now, everyone wants to hear the latest on swine flu news.
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Kaiser Permanente Offers Medical Records on Flash Drives

Kaiser Permanente, a non-profit HMO based in California, has begun offering its Northern California members USB flash drives containing a portion of their medical records that can be carried with them on business trips and vacations.

Kaiser Permanente undertook a major computerization of their medical recordkeeping in the past few years. As a member, I can attest to that. You can book appointments online (change them, even), email your physician, order prescriptions online, etc. etc. But you can't see your medical records aside from items like test results and the like.

The $5 flash drive, available from any medical secretary at a Kaiser facility, doesn't hold all your records, but enough of them, including the member's emergency contacts, physicians, medical issues, allergies, current medications, and lab results for the past year.

The drive is, of course, encrypted. The procedure to get one is as follows:

When a member requests a USB flash drive, the medical data is downloaded to the drive from Kaiser's Electronic Medical Record while the patient waits. Once downloaded, the patient enters a password, and the drive is removed from the computer.

It must be done while the patient visits a facility, but once the drive is paid for, it can be updated any time the member visits another facility. Kaiser started testing the device last summer at its Oakland medical center, where nearly 600 flash drives were provided to members.
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Sunday, April 26, 2009

First Android Netbook in 3 Months, for $250: Maker

The Alpha-680, designed by Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies Co. Ltd., and the world's first Android netbook, could be available as early as three months from now, and for $250, the maker told Computerworld.

When Google first introduced the Android platform, it indicated that the OS would not be restricted to phones, but in addition to the fact that only one Android phone has been introduced so far, no netbooks or other devices have been shipped yet either.

The Alpha-680 aims to change that. Festooned in the now almost-required kaleidoscope of colors (Black, White, Pink, Yellow, and Red), the Alpha-680 has the following specs:

Model Name Alpha 680
Operating System google android
Display 7“ TFT LCD true color
LCD resolution 800 x 480( WVGA)
Internet Connection (Optional) ADSL, WiFi,( GPRS, CDMA,EDGE,WCDMA)
Memory 128MB DDR2 (up to 256MB Optional)
Solid-State Disk 1 GB Nand Flash Memory (up to 4GB Optional)
CPU ARM11 533 MHz 32bit
LAN / Connection 10/100 MB Ethernet ; RJ-45
Wireless Built-in WiFi
Media Support MPEG1/2/4,H.263,H.264,WMV9
USB Output USB 2.0 x 2
Media Storage SD/MMC card slot ( support SDHC)
Input Device 80 Key standard keyboard; Capacitive TouchPad

Google's Android OS is built off of Linux. While, Hewlett-Packard is also reportedly considering using Android on own netbooks, it hasn't confirmed its plans yet.

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Craigslist Remains Defiant; Won't Close "Erotic Services" Section

In March, Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart announced that his office had sued Craigslist over the websites "erotic services" section, which the sheriff said facilitates prostitution. Despite this, and despite the highly publicized "Craigslist Killer," the site says it has no intention of pulling the section.

On Friday night, both Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster spoke to Martin Bashir on ABC's "Nightline."

Both were pretty defiant in their stance on the erotic services section. It's hard to understand how anyone could look at the erotic services section of Craigslist and not simply know by reading them that they are obviously callgirl and prostitution ads.

After all, words like "outcall," "incall," and the like, there's very little left to the imagination.

And Buckmaster's stance that Craigslist is so wonderful, and thae people build their lives with it:
Buckmaster: We literally get emails from people who found their current job and the place that they're living and their husband or wife and their car or bicycle and their cat or dog, many of their friends. Basically so people are putting together their entire lives, they're doing it all for free, and people really seem to appreciate that.

Bashir: That's an interesting list. Let me give you an alternative list. This month, we have the alleged murder by Philip Markoff, radio host George Weber stabbed 50 times, murdered by a man who answered his ad on Craigslist, Willie Donaldson indicted for fatally shooting a man he met on Craigslist in Arlington, Virginia.
What got me was Buckmaster's attitude. He seemed almost stone-faced, showing no emotion.

In an interesting twist, instead of closing the section down, Buckmaster said Craigslist will donate all the profits from these ads to charity. The exchange:
Bashir: You say you're going to donate money, but do you think that charities will welcome donations from adverts where people promise to beat each others' backsides till they bleed? Is that the sort of thing that you think charities will welcome?

Buckmaster:We're going to be making public the donations that are available to charities and they can contact us if they're interested in taking advantage of that.
Somehow I don't think they will get many takers. Watch the interview from Nightline, aired on Friday, April 24th.

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