Monday, August 31, 2009

Judge: TOS Violations Not a Crime; Issues Final Ruling in MySpace Suicide Case

U.S. District Judge George Wu has reaffirmed in writing his oral ruling in July, when he acquitted Lori Drew of isdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization in the Megan Meier MysSpace suicide case.

Megan Meier committed suicide in October of 2006 after a MySpace romance went bad. The romance itself and the boy involved were in fact fictional, reportedly perpetrated as a vindictive prank by Drew, the mother of a former friend who lived down the street.

At the time of Megan Meier's suicide, there was no cyberbullying law in Missouri. Because no case could be had at the state level, federal prosecutors attempted to prosecute her under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). They asserted that her violation of MySpace's ToS was equivalent to hacking.

Lori Drew was onvicted of three misdemeanors, of accessing a computer without authorization. Wu threw those out last month, but stated that it was not final until he issued a written ruling. In his ruling, Wu said:
"It is unclear that every intentional breach of a website's terms of service would be or should be held to be equivalent to an intent to access the site without authorization or in excess of authorization. This is especially the case with MySpace and similar Internet venues which are publicly available for access and use."
Although the "hoax" was certainly heinous, organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) were concerned that the case would set a precedent allowing ToS violations to be prosecuted under anti-hacking laws, and will welcome this final ruling.
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Disney Bonds with Captain America, Iron Man

The Walt Disney company announced on Monday that it is buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in cash and stock. Naturally, on the Disney buyout news, Marvel stock opened up nearly $10 or more than 25%.

Under the terms of the deal, Marvel shareholders will receive $30 cash and 0.745 shares of Disney stock for every share of Marvel stock owned. That values each Marvel share at $50 based on Friday's closing stock price for Disney.

The obvious question: what happens to existing licensing deals? Disney said in a conference call that there'd be no issue with existing Marvel licensing deals, and that when they expire, they wouldn't necessarily be brought in-house (though they could be).

Going forward, Disney noted that the Disney XD channel, targeted at boys, is already running 20 hours a week of Marvel content. They have been looking to licensing more Marvel characters in the future, and this just makes it all the easier. Additionally, with Disney's resources, Marvel content can better reach international markets.

Disney said the acquisition will hurt its earnings per share by a mid-single digit percentage in fiscal 2010. They expect the impact to be positive by the time 2012 rolls around, fueled in part, they said, by 59 million new shares and also by a number of new Marvel Comics-based movies: "Iron Man 2," "Spider-Man 4," "X-Men Origins: Magneto," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2", "Thor" and "The First Avenger: Captain America."

An interesting thought came to my mind: Disney's Donald Duck meets Marvel's Howard the Duck! Some crossover that would be. The Fantastic Four could also team with the Three Little Pigs.

Me? I've always been a DC Comics fanboy, and am looking forward to "Green Lantern," with the one, true GL, Hal Jordan, as well as a "Justice League" movie. Disney and Marvel vs. Warner Bros. and DC Comics. It ought to be interesting.
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"Find My iPhone" Tracks Down Gun-Toting Thieves

L-to-R: Myron Knox, Brent Ray Potter, Bryant Rather

It's unclear how many MobileMe subscriptions Apple has sold, but this might produce a sales bump. Last weekend, an unidentified victim, robbed at gunpoint of his wallet, PIN, and iPhone, used MobileMe's "Find My iPhone" feature to track them down.

"Find My iPhone" debuted with iPhone OS 3.0 this year, and allows you to find the device using GPS, wipe the device, or send a message to be displayed on the home screen, like "Call me if you find my iPhone." Naturally, that last feature wouldn't work too well with crooks.

The victim was accosted by two men at 1 AM in Shadyside, PA. The city's name alone would make me detour around it. At any rate, he went home, fired up his computer, and tracked it Wal-Mart in North Versailles, PA, where the suspects were using the victim's credit card.

Police eventually caught the robbers, along with a third person who was with them when they were arrested. Bryant Rather, 22, of West Mifflin, Brent Ray Potter, 22, of Swissvale, and Myron Knox, Jr., 22, of Homewood, will be charged with two counts each of access device fraud, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and possessing instruments of crime. Rather and Potter, who were the original pair of miscreants, will also be charged with armed robbery.

It's great that these features can be used to thwart thieves, but a reminder: it'll cost you for MobileMe, in order to use "Find My iPhone." $99 / annually, but hey, that's a lot less than an unsubsidized iPhone if it's lost or stolen.
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Japan Invents a Teddy Bear-Like Robotic Nurse

It should surprise no one that this development comes from Japan, as that country is not only robot-crazy, they are crazy about robots because they are concerned about their aging population, which has the highest median age in the world.

It is, however, the first robot capable of lifting a human up in its arms. The robot is called Riba, short for Robot for Interactive Body Assistance, and was developed by the state-run Riken research center.

Riba can move patients weighing up to 134 pounds. It can also respond to verbal commands, and recognize faces. It's an upgrade to Riken's prior Ri-man robot, which could only lift 40 pounds.

There are no immediate plans for commercialization, but Riba will be deployed to hospitals over the next five years. Based on the again population of Japan, an emphasis on robotics makes sense, but two questions:
  • Are they making sure the darn things follow the Three Laws of Robotics?
  • Why a teddy bear? Why not Hello, Kitty?
Watch a video on Riba:
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Ikea's Font Change Prompts Web Backlash

You can bet that Ikea, the Swedish home furnishing chain, well-known for affordable but stylish products, never expected a backlash over a change in font (typeface) in its latest catalog. But the angst over the change is such that a petition to reverse the change has reached over 2,800 signatures, as of noon Sunday.

The change, from Futura to Verdana, is Ikea's first in 50 years. The catalog, which the company bills as the world’s most printed book, was distributed last month.

Ikea spokeswoman Camilla Meiby expressed the company's surprise:
“We’re surprised. But I think it’s mainly experts who have expressed their views, people who are interested in fonts. I don’t think the broad public is that interested.”
It appears to be true, that most of the angst over the change is from graphic designers and other folks who would be most interested in fonts. It is true, however, that Verdana was designed by Microsoft for better legibility on computer screens, with wide, open letters and space between characters.

Regarding Verdana, Simon l'Anson, creative director at Made by Many, a London-based digital-consulting company said:
"It has open, wide letterforms with lots of space between characters to aid legibility at small sizes on screen. It doesn't exhibit any elegance or visual rhythm when set at large sizes. It's like taking the family sedan off-road. It will sort of work, but ultimately gets bogged down."
Carolyn Fraser, a letterpress printer in Melbourne, Australia, is a little more blunt.
"Verdana was designed for the limitations of the Web — it's dumbed down and overused. It's a bit like using Lego to build a skyscraper, when steel is clearly a superior choice."
It's true that large computer screens are affordable now, and (with the exceptions of more luggable laptops such as netbooks), things are a lot better visibility wise than previously. Perhaps the bottom line, however, is the bottom line. The font is freely distributed by Microsoft, and allows Ikea to use the same font in all countries and with many alphabets.

Melby added:
“Verdana is a simple, cost-effective font which works well in all media and languages."
Ooo, that cost-effective term always comes from the mouths of corporations, doesn't it?

Bucharest designer Iancu Barbarasa, blogged about the font change on his website:
"They went cheap, in other words. Designers have always thought of Ikea as one of their own,"So now, in a way, the design community feels betrayed."
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Exploding iPhones Not Our Fault: Apple

An Apple investigation after reports of exploding iPhones in France has, turned up no underlying flaws in the device, according to the company.

Apple said was that there haven't been any reports of battery overheating, but that
all of the handsets they had seen with broken screens were caused by an "external force." The statement issued by the company was:
"To date, there are no confirmed battery overheating incidents for iPhone 3GS and the number of reports we are investigating is in the single digits. The iPhones with broken glass that we have analysed to date show that in all cases the glass cracked due to an external force that was applied to the iPhone."
The French report I previously wrote about sounded more like a hand grenade, with the phone hissing before the screen suddenly broke, sending shards flying.

Additionally, Frank Benoiton, of Acheres-la-Foret in France, told AP that his wife's iPhone had cracked without warning last week and that "It was not dropped and experienced no unusual shock."

French watchdog DGCCRF was prompted to investigate the complaints by the recent incidents. Meanwhile, the European Commission issued an alert to its 27 member states using its Rapex system which is the EU rapid alert system for "dangerous" consumer products.

Such an alert does not always lead to a recall, or even necessarily amount to anything.
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The End of the Robocall (Mostly): Sept. 1st

The end of automated telemarketing calls (for the most part) comes on Tuesday, Sept. 1st. Starting that day, unless telemarketers have received written permission from a consumer that he or she wants to receive such calls, the FTC can fine the robocaller up to $16,000 per call.

Finally, I will be rid of my favorite, the one that makes me want to tear my hair out. I'm sure you've gotten one of these (or maybe not):
This is the second notice that the factory warranty on your vehicle is expiring ...
Or something like that. That is so annoying, since I never got a first warning, and since I know my warranty is not about to expire.

At any rate, prior to this ban, consumers had to specifically join a do-not-call list to avoid telemarketing calls. You'll remember that, I'm sure. After Sept. 1, consumers shouldn’t get most of the prerecorded calls anymore.

Ah, but wait. This ban is specific to robocalls. You can still get calls from live representatives. You have to sign up for the National Do-No-Call List to avoid those.

And those of you foolish enough to embroil yourself in a few different things, such as politics and charities can still get robocalls. Other exceptions include calls not trying to sell goods and services, such as those that provide information like flight cancellations, delivery notices, debt collectors, survey calls, and certain healthcare messages such as prescription notifications.

One thing the FTC will need is your help if you get a robocall. If you do get one, you can file a complaint online through FTC.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. “If consumers think they’re being harassed by robocallers, they need to let us know, and we will go after them,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said.
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Yes, Virginia, Snow Leopard Includes Malware Protection

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and the latest edition of Mac OS X, 10.6 or Snow Leopard, does include malware protection.

For years, Mac fanatics have jeered at Windows users, because of the constant need for malware protection. As I said previously, however, as the Mac becomes more popular, it will soon become a target for malware writers.

Eset's Threat Blog lists common responses by Mac users to the idea that malware could threaten the Mac OS. Eset is the company behind the well-regarded NOD32 security software.
  • Mac viruses can’t happen and Trojans don’t matter
  • Mac users are too smart to fall for social engineering
  • If they do, it’s their own fault.
  • Go away and stop bothering me with this stuff.
  • Not listening. La-la-la-la-la….
It's not like Snow Leopard checks for a huge number of viruses; it only checks for two, in fact, RSPlug and iServices.

Still, the fact that this protection is included at all is a sign that Apple recognizes that the days of Mac OS invulnerability may be at an end.
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IBM Seeks Patent on TV Remote That Self-Blogs

IBM has filed a patent application for a TV remote control that will blog for you. Yes, what we're talking about here is a remote control that will enable a viewer to basically blog about a particular show he's watching.

Now, I admit, TV remotes have made humans lazy, and you and I will probably spent a long time looking for a lost remote rather than simply getting up and turning off the TV manually, but still, this is a little over-the-top.

Here's how the remote control is described:
A method, system and apparatus provide for automatic blogging of media viewing using an enhanced remote controller having networking capabilities that support social networking and blogging. The enhanced remote controller, suitable for use while viewing media programming and content, allows a viewer to autoblog about currently experienced media programming in real-time without having to resort to direct interaction with a computer to perform the autoblogging. The enhanced remote controller allows the viewer to both communicate with a blogging server, and thus to a blogging service, as well as to display responses to and from other bloggers with whom the viewer is communicating. These blog communications may be accomplished without the viewer having to leave the broadcast receiver of the television.
It's unclear to me just how you can really flesh out a blog post simply from a remote control. The patent application does supply this clue:
If a protocol provided by the remote controller to send the blog posting to the blog allows a snapshot of the media program to be included in the blog posting, the remote controller takes the snapshot of the media program and includes it in the blog posting.
A snapshot of the media program? Hey, I can see copyright infringement charges all over this. At any rate, a patent application does not necessarily mean a product will ever result, or even that the application will be granted.

Readers, would you find this useful? Personally, I think it's silly.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Apple Strikes iPhone Deal with Chinese Telecom

The long-awaited entry of the iPhone to China, at least in non-jailbroken and non-unlocked form, is at the brink, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. China Unicom plans to start selling two versions of the iPhone in the fourth quarter, under a three-year deal.

China Unicom is the second-largest wireless carrier in China, but it has less than 1/3 the number of subscribers as China Mobile (CMCC). Still, China Unicom had 141 million wireless users at the end of July. There is reportedly no revenue sharing in the deal.

China Unicom also said on Friday that its 3G network will launch commercially on Sept. 28th, just in time to be overloaded, similar to AT&T, by the iPhone. Of course, the iPhone has already been "imported" into China in large numbers by those buying the device in supported countries and returning to the country.

As expected, and in accordance with Chinese regulations, the iPhone will be sold with their wi-fi functionality disabled. Given this, one would expect the aforementioned "grey market" of imported iPhones to continue to exist. Research firm BDA China estimates there are as many as 1.5 million iPhones already in use in China.

China is, without a doubt, a country associated with piracy of many types. It will be interesting to see how many of these phones are jailbroken. It is unclear exactly when the iPhone will launch, aside from Q4, or what pricing will be.
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Amazon's German Site Outs a 250GB Xbox 360 Elite

It's not the first time an e-tailer has outed a product early. It won't be the last. It appears that Amazon.com's German site has listed a 250GB version of the Xbox 360 Elite.

It's a good time to be a gamer, eh? First the PS3 "Slim" and a $100 price reduction, then the corresponding $100 price drop for the Xbox 360 Elite, and now a 250GB Xbox Elite version?

The listing is a package deal, including Forza Motorsport 3 for EUR 279.99 or about $402. Since Microsoft's announcement of the Xbox 360 price cut includes a note that implies the Pro version will be discontinued, perhaps the current Elite will become Pro, and the 250GB version (assuming it's for real) will become the new Elite. Guess we'll find out, one way or the other.
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Nokia Leans on Linux for E900

On Thursday, Nokia unveiled its first phone using a Linux OS. The N900 uses Nokia's Linux-based Maemo OS, but for the first time in an actual cell phone as opposed to an Internet Tablet that requires wi-fi or cell phone pairing.

The N900 runs Nokia's new Maemo 5 software. Nokia makes sure to emphasize the device's ability to run "dozens of applications simultaneously." Size-wise, it compares favorably with the iPhone 3GS, at 110.9 mm x 59.8 mm x 18 mm vs. 115.5 mm x 62.1 mm x 12.3 mm. Yes, yes, it loses out by about 50% in the thickness category, but otherwise, it's pretty similar. Why that extra thickness? A slide-out QWERTY keyboard, of course.

Unlike other recent smartphones (Android, iPhone, Pre) the N900 uses a Mozilla-based browser, instead of a Webkit-based one. The N900 has a TFT 3.5" resistive touchscreen, with 16M colors, 800 x 480.

Additional specs: 32GB of storage, with microSD card expansion, and a 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics. Also, A-GPS, an FM receiver / transmitter, compass, accelerometer and up to 9 hours of talk time (emphasis on the "up to").

Clearly, Nokia wants this to be an iPhone killer, but what it doesn't have, naturally, is the App Store.

Anssi Vanjoki, Executive Vice President, Markets, Nokia, said in their press release announcing the N900:
"With Linux software, Mozilla-based browser technology and now also with cellular connectivity, the Nokia N900 delivers a powerful mobile experience. The Nokia N900 shows where we are going with Maemo and we'll continue to work with the community to push the software forward. What we have with Maemo is something that is fusing the power of the computer, the internet and the mobile phone, and it is great to see that it is evolving in exciting ways."
The N900 will carry a retail price of €500 before carrier subsidies. It will launch in "select markets" in October, wherever that means. Unfortunately, no word on U.S. pricing or availability yet.

Watch an N900 video from Nokia:
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Microsoft Cuts Xbox 360 Elite Price $100

In a move made almost mandatory by the recent announcement of the PS3 Slim and a $100 price cut by Sony, Microsoft announced Thursday that the price of the Xbox 360 Elite, the high-end model with a 120GB hard drive, will be dropped by $100 to $299.

In addition, the current $299 60GB model will be reduced to $249. Microsoft's press release, however, notes "while supplies last." Based on that, it sounds as though eventually, the only two Xbox 360 models at retail will be the 120GB version and the $199 Arcade model, which comes without a hard drive.

This price drop, along with the new PS3 price, will place pressure on Nintendo to drop the price of its aging Nintendo Wii console. While the Wii's definitely redefined gaming with its innovative controls, Microsoft is quick to point out that the Xbox 360 you buy this year will be compatible with the controller-less "Project Natal."

Nintendo's Wii has never been a technological powerhouse, and with these other consoles dropping close to its MSRP of $249, there are going to be some market share changes, most likely. Of course, as I said, the innovative Wiimote has made video gaming fun again, but Project Natal will eliminate that advantage.

Naturally, Microsoft didn't indicate the price cut was anything but a cut for the upcoming holiday season, not mentioning the PS3's price cut. Shane Kim, corporate vice-president of strategy and business development for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft said:
"With the holiday season right around the corner, it's already time to start looking for entertainment and gifts that everyone will enjoy. If you're looking for deep experiences that don't require deep pockets, now is the time to purchase an Xbox 360. We've got the best games, a vast library of TV shows and movies, new music experiences, more ways to connect friends and family, and so much more on the horizon including 'Project Natal' - no controller required."

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U.K. File Sharers May Face Web Cut-off

The U.K. has joined France in trying to crack down on illegal downloading by instituting a policy whereby consumers found to repeatedly illegally download copyrighted material would have their Internet access suspended. This has commonly been called a "three strikes" policy, as usually the proposal is to give the offender three chances before suspending their access.

Earlier, the U.K. had planned to restrict broadband speed, not total access. While that provision remains under the new proposal, it has been joined by a new provision which includes the possibility of blocking access completely.

The measure will come up for a vote in Parliament in November. If passed, the U.K. would join France in attempting to cut off Internet access for repeat illegal downloaders.

However, France's law ran afoul of a French court, which ruled after the bill's passage in May that a court could rule Internet access to be cut off. This is in concert with a European Parliament ruling in May which prohibits EU members from disabling an end user's broadband service without a court order.

It would be expected that a U.K. law, if passed, would face the same consequences: a court battle that it would probably lose. At the same time, however, France is planning to re-write its aforementioned bill, so perhaps there is some middle ground.

Late last year in the U.S., the RIAA announced it would no longer pursue lawsuits against repeat offenders, but would instead work with ISPs on developing a "three-strikes" policy. Some ISPs have been cooperating, but at the same time some have objected to being turned into police, while others have said they would send warnings, but would never disable Internet access (AT&T is an example).
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Microsoft Issues Apology for Changing Race in Web Site Photo

Polish Version
Oops. In what seems to be an incident related to the ethnic homogeneity of Poland, a photo on Microsoft's Polish site was altered, from showing a black man to showing a white one.

Microsoft has since apologized for the change, which drew much criticism online. However, it did not offer an explanation for the change.

If you look at the same photo on the Microsoft's U.S. Web site see two men, one Asian and one black, and a white woman seated at a conference room table.

U.S. Version
Look at the same photo on the Web site of Microsoft's Polish business unit, and the black man's head has been replaced with that of a white man. Strangely, the color of his hand was unchanged.

In a statement Tuesday, Microsoft spokesperson Lou Gellos said:
"We are looking into the details of this situation. We apologize and are in the process of pulling down the image."
Microsoft has since modified the image on the Polish site to match the U.S. site. However, while the fact that the second man's hand was unchanged is strange, it's also strange that the Asian man was not also redacted, if it's all about Poland's homogeneity. Speaking to someone I know that was born and raised in Poland (my wife), Asians are very rare in Poland as well. They are more prevalent than blacks, however, though they are limited to isolated communities in Warsaw or Krakow.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Report on Cell Phone Radiation Details Flaws in Industry Study

A new report again brings up the oft-asked question, "is there a link between cell phone use and brain tumors," AKA "do cell phones cause brain cancer?" What's most interesting is that the report additionally details eleven design flaws of the 13-country, Telecom-funded Interphone study, which was intended to determine the risks of brain tumors with cell phone use, though its full publication has been held up for years.

Similar to just about anything (think of the dueling experts usually brought in for court cases), you can find conflicting expert views and reports on just about any subject. The cell phone radiation / brain tumor argument is no different.

Groups affiliated with the report, (.PDF), titled "Cellphones and Brain Tumors, 15 Reasons for Concern, Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone," include Powerwatch and the Radiation Research Trust in the U.K., and the EMR Policy Institute, ElectromagenticHealth.org and The Peoples Initiative Foundation in the U.S.

A number of international scientists have endorsed the report, including Ronald B. Herberman, MD, Director Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; David Carpenter, MD, Director, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany; Martin Blank, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, Columbia University; Professor Yury Grigoriev, Chairman of Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, among others.

The report asserts that portions of the Interphone study which have been published to date "reveal what the authors call a ‘systemic-skew’, greatly underestimating brain tumor risk."

The Interphone study, began in 1999 and completed in 2004, has still not been published in its entirety. The authors of the new "15 Reasons" study recommend that consumers read "independent" studies, as opposed to Interphone's, which was funded by the very industry that lines its coffers with money from cell phone users.

Here are the flaws in the Interphone study, as outlined by the "15 Reasons" authors:

Flaw 1: Selection Bias

As the researchers point out, when asked to participate in a "cellphone study," it is reasonable to assume controls who use a cellphone are more likely to participate than controls who do not use a cellphone.

Flaw 2: Insufficient Latency Time

The researchers point out that the known latency time (the time between exposure and diagnosis) for brain tumors is 30+ years, similar to lung cancer from smoking, and mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.

Flaw 3: Definition of “Regular” Cellphone User

Flaw 4: Exclusion of Young Adults and Children from the Interphone Study

Flaw 5: Brain Tumor Risk from Cellphones Radiating Higher Power in Rural Areas Were Not Investigated

Flaw 6: Exposure to Other Transmitting Sources Are Not Considered

Flaw 7: Exclusion of Brain Tumor Types

Flaw 8: Tumors Outside the Cellphone’s Radiation Plume Are Treated as Exposed

Showing fairness by the new study's authors, this flaw actually overestimates the risk.

Flaw 9: Exclusion of Brain Tumor Cases Because of Death or Too Ill to Respond

Flaw 10: Recall Accuracy of Cellphone Use

Why not use billing from carriers (with permission of the participants) rather than of relying on memory?

Flaw 11: Funding Bias

Naturally, the biggest flaw of all.

You can expect carriers, cell phone manufacturers, and the like to dispute this report. The report doesn't say cell phones should be banned, but that caution should be taken, and that the risks are likely higher than thought.

Here's a very good (in terms of common sense) quote from one of the endorsers of the study, Chris Woollams M.A. Biochemistry (Oxon), Editor Integrated Cancer and Oncology News, CEO CANCERactive:
“In a world where a drug cannot be launched without proof that it is safe, where the use of herbs and natural compounds available to all since early Egyptian times are now questioned, their safety subjected to the deepest scrutiny, where a new food cannot be launched without prior approval, the idea that we can use mobile telephony, including masts, and introduce WiFi and mobile phones without restrictions around our 5 year olds is double-standards gone mad. I speak, not just as an editor and scientist that has looked in depth at all the research, but as a father that lost his beloved daughter to a brain tumour.”
Watch a video posted with the study:

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Facebook iPhone App Developer Asks Apple to Remove App Store Review Process

What's the biggest roadblock to getting an iPhone application out to developers? Aside, of course, from the development process itself, it's the App Store review process, which can take weeks, or longer, and which can result in a rejection, as well.

While end users patiently await the 3.0 release of Facebook's iPhone app, Joe Hewitt, developer of the iPhone Facebook application, has spoken out on his own blog about the review process, which some have called draconian, and which many object to because of its lack of transparency.

Below is part of his post, emphasis mine:
I have only one major complaint with the App Store, and I can state it quite simply: the review process needs to be eliminated completely.

Does that sound scary to you, imagining a world in which any developer can just publish an app to your little touch screen computer without Apple's saintly reviewers scrubbing it of all evil first? Well, it shouldn't, because there is this thing called the World Wide Web which already works that way, and it has served millions and millions of people quite well for a long time now.

Oh, but you say that iPhone apps are different, because they run native code and can do scary things that web pages can't? Again, you're wrong, because iPhone apps are sandboxed and have scarcely any more privileges than a web app. About the only scary thing they can do outside the sandbox is access your address book, but Apple can easily fix that by requiring they ask permission first, just like they must do to track your location.

The fact is this: Apple does not have the means to perform thorough quality assurance on any app. This is up to the developer. We have our own product managers and quality assurance testers, and we are liable to our users and the courts if we do anything evil or stupid. Apple may catch a few shallow bugs in the review process, but let's face it, the real things they are looking for are not bugs, but violations of the terms of service. This is all about lawyers, not quality, and it shows that the model of Apple's justice system is guilty until proven innocent. They don't trust us, and I resent that, because the vast majority of us are trustworthy.
That assumes, of course, that Apple's reasoning is what has been given externally. In reality, besides the terms of service violations, Apple is probably looking at anything that would hurt its partnership with AT&T (and probably other partners, too).

Let's be honest: there's pretty much no way anything's going to change in the App Store, at least for now, and probably never. It's too bad, but that's the way Apple runs things.
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The U.S. Still Trails in Broadband Speeds: Survey

A new nationwide study release by Speed Matters shows what many Americans already know: the U.S. lags behind many other countries in terms of broadband speeds.

You read that right, the country that first developed the Internet trails many other countries.

The Speed Matters Speed Test, which is a project of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), measures the speed of a user’s Internet connection. The 2009 report, based on aggregated data from more than 413,000 Internet users who took the online test between May 2008 and May 2009, shows that the average Internet download speed in the U.S. has increased by only 1.6 megabits per second (mbps), from 3.5 mbps in 2007 to 5.1 mbps in 2009.

That might sound good, but compare that to South Korea: 20.4 mbps, or four times faster than the U.S. The United States ranks 28th in the world in average Internet connection speeds, in fact.

The negative of faster U.S. speeds would be that, if you give the U.S. faster speeds, people on capped broadband plans, which are becoming pretty popular among ISP, would simply reach their caps faster.

The five fastest states are: Delaware (9.9 mbps), Rhode Island (9.8 mbps), New Jersey (8.9 mbps), Massachusetts (8.6 mbps) and New York (8.4 mbps), all in the NE. I'll bet there's see some Verizon FIOS impact there, both for Verizon customers and competitors trying to keep up.

Mississippi (3.7 mbps), South Carolina (3.6 mbps), Arkansas (3.1 mbps), Idaho (2.6 mbps) and Alaska (2.3 mbps) have some of the slowest Internet connection speeds, according to the study.

As the CWA notes in a press release, the U.S. is still the only industrialized country without a national policy to promote high-speed Internet access. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that was signed into law earlier this year included a provision calling for a national broadband plan by spring 2010 and $7.2 billion in broadband grants for unserved and underserved areas.

The full report (.PDF) is available online, for those in states not listed above. It could either depress, or elate you.

I guess elate is a little strong, as only if we were seeing South Korean speeds (without a cap) would I be elated.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New U.K. "Texting While Driving" PSA is Disturbing, Pulls No Punches

A new "texting while driving" PSA (public service announcement) from the U.K. pulls no punches. It also makes no attempt to hide the graphic consequences for someone distracted by their SMS messages while driving, either.

The dangers of texting while driving are well-known to researchers. Numerous studies have shown that text messaging while driving is as bad as drunk driving, in terms of the reduction in reaction time for the driver. In the case of SMS while driving, it's distraction, not a physical result of imbibing in alcohol, but the result is still the same.

Many are either still unaware of the possible consequences, or simply do not care. They feel that the consequences of not responding or not reading an SMS are worse than anything else. Is that SMS really that important? This "texting while driving" PSA certainly should give you the answer to that question: no.

In reality, common sense should be enough, but that's something people lack of lot of nowadays, when it comes to thinking what's most important: your life or some inane act. While this "texting while driving" PSA is graphic, not quite "Final Destination" graphic, but pretty disturbing (fair warning, and the part with the baby and child is especially disturbing!), it is still likely that many will simply ignore this as a "Hollywood" production.

We recall when we were in school, and they would show us actual dead bodies as the result of overdosing on drugs, as a way of scaring teens out of drug use. This "texting while driving" PSA is pretty graphic already, but perhaps that's how far people need to go: ads showing the actual real-life consequences of actual accidents as a result of texting while driving.

One problem with that idea is that it's not that easy to tell when such activity is the cause of a crash. That's one reason that statistics of that sort aren't readily available, either.

In terms of legislation, in the U.S., thirty-six states have no text messaging while driving ban. Those that do frequently have "slap on the wrist" fines such as California's, which is $20 for the first offense, and $50 for the subsequent offenses.

Watch a video report including the "texting while driving" PSA. It's not easy to watch, but at least we know it's not real. That doesn't mean the potential for real accidents of this nature isn't there, every day.


Here's a CNN report with some expert discussion afterwards:





Microsoft Launches App Support for Feature Phones with OneApp

Knowing a massive untapped market when it sees it, Microsoft on Monday launched OneApp, a software application that enables feature phones (think Motorola Razr, for a good example), which are commonly found in emerging markets to have access to mobile apps that people like you and I have on our iPhones, Palm Pres, and BlackBerrys.

Think Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, and those sorts of things. In order to run these apps on underpowered feature phones, Microsoft is leveraging the cloud to do much of the processing. OneApp will launch first with Blue Label Telecoms in South Africa.

Here's how Microsoft describes OneApp:
OneApp was designed from the ground up to enable mobile apps to be accessed by feature phones with limited memory and processing capability. For customers, OneApp appears on their phone as a single application where they can then easily access all of their mobile apps:
  • The OneApp lightweight on-phone footprint of just 150 KB makes the initial installation easy and fast.
  • OneApp dynamically launches just the parts of a mobile app that a person wants to use, eliminating additional installation time and the need for a person to store all of the mobile apps on the phone.
  • OneApp includes cloud services that help offload processing and storage from the phone to the Internet, improving overall performance.
  • OneApp uses data networks efficiently to reduce data access charges, saving money for the customer.
Customers in emerging markets can't afford to buy smartphones, so something like this could open a huge number of markets to these types of apps, and for once give Microsoft a leg up on other smartphone manufacturers.

A recent analyst's report show Windows Mobile had dropped to 9% in terms of usage amongst smartphone platforms, trailing the Symbian, RIM, and iPhone's platforms.

Of course, OneApp still faces the challenge of apps written for Sun's J2ME. However, Microsoft feels that OneApp applications will be write-once, run everywhere apps, something not always doable with J2M3 applications.

Applications can be written in Javascript and XML, according to Microsoft's press release. Watch a Microsoft OneApp Demo With Tim McDonough, Senior Director, Unlimited Potential Group.

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Snow Leopard to Launch Aug. 28th

Speculation about when Apple's next iteration of Mac OS X will launch is now over, as on Monday Apple announced that Snow Leopard, or Mac OS X 10.6 will launch on Friday, August 28th.

This ought to please Apple shareholders and Apple's bank account, at least if Piper Jaffray is correct. In a new research note to investors, Piper Jaffray forecasts that Snow Leopard OS will sell 5 million copies during its launch window in the September quarter. Apple had earlier announced plans for a September launch.

Snow Leopard will have an upgrade cost of a mere $29 for Leopard owners. Compare that to a Windows Vista -> Windows 7 upgrade.

Apple has marketed Snow Leopard as a stability and performance upgrade, rather than a feature-packed update. Wait, that's what Windows 7 is, and once again look at what we're going to have to pay!

However, Snow Leopard adds support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to allow synchronization from Exchange to Mail, Calendar and Address Book on the Mac. Also, according to Apple, several built-in applications run much faster than previously.

Snow Leopard also supports OpenCL (Open Computing Language). This allows program to use cycles from a Mac's GPU and use it for non-graphics tasks. Thank NVIDIA, which supplies the chips currently used in all Apple laptop and consumer desktop Macs, for that.

Mac OS X Server Snow Leopard will also go launch on Friday, August 28.
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Baby Name Angst Rises in the Digital Age

Remember when it was bad enough when your neighbor or a relative took that baby name you just really, really wanted? Now, in the digital age, what if that domain name you really wanted is gone? Aaagh, panic time!

If you've gotten a domain name linked to your own last name, you're safe, as you can just "bequeath" that domain name to your children. However, if you want a domain name such as "johnsmith.com" or something, you might be outta luck. While there are innumerable sites like Baby Name Wizard that can help you find out the meaning of names, and the like, parents are becoming more desperate.

Yes, according to a report, so much angst appears around baby names that books like Baby Name Wizard (from the same people that run the site above) have been written to find the perfect name for people.

Laura Wattenberg, founder of Baby Name Wizard, said the following, about parental angst:
“We all want our kids to be distinctive, and that’s created a kind of arms race because we might want to be different from one another but our tastes are very much the same. Parents type a first and last name into Google and feel panicked when it’s taken, or when the domain name is taken."
Let's be honest: as time goes on you're not going to find the matching Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, domain name, or whatever that matches your baby's name. Just give your baby a name you like, and hopefully they will like it as well.

I will admit, I couldn't get a Gmail address strictly based on my daughter's name, so I searched long and hard for a Gmail address for my daughter that I liked.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Nokia Announces the Booklet 3G Netbook

Nokia, the leader in worldwide cell phone sales, announced on Monday it is developing a netbook, the Nokia Booklet 3G (Nokia-supplied photo above). The company has seen its earnings and market share drop as the iPhone has taken the world by storm.

Speculation has been that Nokia might look at a Symbian-powered netbook, but the press release states the device will be powered by Windows. Not much was detailed, but with a 10" screen and an Intel Atom CPU, the Nokia Booklet 3G is clearly a netbook.

Other specs:
  • HDMI port for HD video out
  • 3G/HSPA
  • wi-fi
  • up to 12 hours of battery life
  • 1.25 kg weight
  • a front facing camera for video calling
  • integrated Bluetooth
  • SD card reader
  • integrated A-GPS
Given the 3G support, perhaps carrier deal(s) will be in place to subsidize the price of the netbook. Further information, including detailed specifications, market availability and pricing, will be announced at Nokia World in Stuttgart, Germany, on September 2.
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iPhone Outsold All Windows Mobile Phones in Q2: Analyst

Technology industry analyst Canalys released a report on Q2 2009 earlier this week, that stated what we already knew from prior such analysis: that smartphone sales continue to be strong. Not just that, though: Windows Mobile continues to sink, with the iPhone outselling all Windows Mobile devices.

Nokia retained its lead with 44.3% of smartphone shipments, and RIM continues to be second with 20.9%. Meanwhile, the iPhone came in at third with 13.7%. When looking at different platforms, the top three were the exact same as above, with Symbian representing Nokia, but Windows Mobile came in at 9%, fourth place among platforms.

Also of note is that the touchscreen form factor that the iPhone made popular continues to be popular. 39.6% of all smartphones sold have touchscreens, compared to 12.3% being keypad-based devices like BlackBerry and just 10.7% being keyboard devices like those sold by HTC using Windows Mobile.

Despite the absence of Palm's webOS in the list of platforms above, Chris Jones, Canalys VP and principal analyst, had some good things to say about Palm:
“As a relatively small company, Palm has shown what creative leadership and focused investment can achieve. By going back to its roots and developing its own operating system, it has produced an innovative and differentiated product. Investors have responded to this, with its share price growing over 70% this year. Palm still has plenty of challenges ahead – it must find the resources to launch the Pre on the global stage, while continuing to fund development of its product pipeline. But it is remarkable how much better the prospects are for this company than just one year ago.”
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Install Any Windows 7 Version From One DVD

Let's be clear, this is a way to try, not indefinitely use different versions of Windows 7 from one DVD or .ISO image. A small tweak will allow users tech-savvy enough to get a taste of all the versions of Windows 7.

Now, why do you need a little technical expertise? You need to remove a file from the DVD or from the .ISO image. As Windows Secrets notes, all you have to do is delete the ei.cfg file.

This means that you can start with a Windows 7 Home Premium (or whatever) DVD and install any version you want, though of course you'd need a compatible activation code to keep that version. To make things easier for you, the ei.cfg file is in the sources subdirectory (WS didn't indicate its location).

It's simple enough: if you have an .ISO file use an appropriate .ISO imaging program to delete the file from it, then save the image and burn it. If you have the DVD you can use the same program to rip the DVD to an .ISO image, then delete the file, and reburn it.

Once deleted, you'll get a menu of choices, as shown above. You can select any version of Windows 7 to install, and thus try out any version, to see if you really, really want to buy that version.

Also, while the standard trial period is 30 days, just as with Windows Vista, you can extend that through the use of Microsoft's Software License Manager (slmgr), which ships with the OS.

If you install Windows 7 sans activation key, you have 30 days to try the software. Using slmgr, you can "rearm" and restart the clock. If you right-click on the Computer icon, and choose Properties, under Windows Activation, you'll see the number of days left in your trial period.

To restart the clock,
  • Click Start, All Programs, Accessories. Right-click Command Prompt and choose Run As Administrator. If necessary, enter your administrator password.
  • Type "slmgr -rearm" and press the Enter key.
  • Restart Windows 7.
You can rearm a total of three times. Wait until the end of each period and you get a total of 120 days of use. Want to try another version? You can do a clean install.

Which version are you readers going to install?
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