Monday, November 30, 2009

Twitter Is The Top Word Of 2009

They may not have figured out how to monetize it, but they certainly have made its name iconic. The Global Language Monitor, which tracks language trends, has released its annual global survey of the English language. This includes not just the most popular words, but the most popular phrases as well. This year, the word Twitter is the Top Word of 2009.

Last year, the most popular word was "change," obviously pointed at the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign. This year, seeming following in the footsteps of the Oxford American Dictionary (which named "unfriend" its word of the year), the Global Language Monitor has gone techie with Twitter.

Pointing to the ubiquity of Twitter during breaking events worldwide, Paul JJ Payack, President of The Global Language Monitor said:
"In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words. Twitter represents a new form of social interaction, where all communication is reduced to 140 characters. Being limited to strict formats did wonders for the sonnet and haiku. One wonders where this highly impractical word-limit will lead as the future unfolds."
The global word analysis was completed in late November using the GLM’s Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI). The PQI tracks words and phrases in the media and on the Internet, in relation to frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media outlets, factoring in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum and "velocity."

Here are the results, including words, phrases and names, along with GLM commentary.

The Top Words of 2009
  1. Twitter — The ability to encapsulate human thought in 140 characters
  2. Obama — The word stem transforms into scores of new words like ObamaCare
  3. H1N1 — The formal (and politically correct) name for Swine Flu
  4. Stimulus — The $800 billion aid package meant to help mend the US economy
  5. Vampire — Vampires are very much en vogue, now the symbol of unrequited love
  6. 2.0 — The 2.0 suffix is attached to the next generation of everything
  7. Deficit — Lessons from history are dire warnings here
  8. Hadron — Ephemeral particles subject to collision in the Large Hadron Collider
  9. Healthcare — The direction of which is the subject of intense debate in the US
  10. Transparency — Elusive goal for which many 21st c. governments are striving
  11. Outrage — In response to large bonuses handed out to ‘bailed-out’ companies
  12. Bonus — The incentive pay packages that came to symbolize greed and excess
  13. Unemployed — And underemployed amount to close to 20% of US workforce
  14. Foreclosure — Forced eviction for not keeping up with the mortgage payments
  15. Cartel — In Mexico, at the center of the battle over drug trafficking
The Top Phrases of 2009

King of Pop –Elvis was ‘The King;’ MJ had to settle for ‘King of Pop’
Obama-mania — One of the scores of words from the Obama-word stem
Climate Change — Considered politically neutral compared to global warming
Swine Flu — Popular name for the illness caused by the H1N1 virus
Too Large to Fail — Institutions that are deemed necessary for financial stability
Cloud Computing — Using the Internet for a variety of computer services
Public Option — The ability to buy health insurance from a government entity
Jai Ho! — A Hindi shout of joy or accomplishment
Mayan Calendar — Consists of various ‘cycles,’ one of which ends on 12/21/2012
God Particle — The hadron, believed to hold the secrets of the Big Bang

The Top Names of 2009

Barack Obama — It was Obama’s year, though MJ nearly eclipsed in the end
Michael Jackson — Eclipses Obama on internet though lags in traditional media
Mobama — Mrs. Obama, sometimes as a fashion Icon
Large Hadron Collider — The Trillion dollar ‘aton smasher’ buried outside Geneva
Neda Agha Sultan — Iranian woman killed in the post-election demonstrations
Nancy Pelosi –The Democratic Speaker of the US House
M. Ahmadinejad — The president of Iran, once again
Hamid Karzai — The winner of Afghanistan’s disputed election
Rahm Emmanuel — Bringing ‘Chicago-style politics’ to the Administration
Sonia Sotomayor — The first Hispanic woman on the US Supreme Court
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Is Apple A Big Flash Memory Bully? Yes, and No

Gone are the days when people would point at Microsoft as the big bully. Now they also point to Intel and Apple, and this story concerns Apple. It's well-known that Apple orders tons of flash RAM whenever they are planning a new device launch, and that influence on the market means that Apple can manipulate it.

At least, that's what semiconductor manufacturers are claiming, stating that Apple is manipulating flash memory prices through its "questionable" purchasing strategies. However, because it uses so much flash RAM in its iPod and iPhone devices, there's not much they can do about it, say vendors like Hynix and Samsung. A senior industry official told The Korea Times:
"Apple should certainly be blamed for deteriorating the supply and demand cycle in the global NAND flash market.

"Apple has asked Korean semiconductor makers to produce a certain amount of chips for its digital products, only to actually purchase a smaller volume eventually. The company doesn't make immediate purchases, but waits until chip prices to fall to the level the company has internally targeted."
Now, it's all interesting, but at least it's not bullying on the level of Intel, where kickbacks and "rebates," or the threat of a held-back rebate, forced vendors to buy Intel instead of AMD. It's also hard to understand the "bite-the-hand" that feeds you approach to this complaint, as while Apple doesn't singlehandedly own the flash RAM market, it owns a huge piece of it, and that's capitalism at its best.

In reality, this sounds more like a bunch of OEMs unhappy with Apple's control over a huge portion of the flash RAM market. Of course, Apple is the big bully in the flash RAM world, but that's just the way it is. Perhaps they need to team up with Microsoft and see if they can get the Zune more market share. Nah.
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MacBooks Most Wished-For Laptops For Christmas 2009

As Cyber Monday approaches, it's interesting to take a look at Amazon.com's Most Wished For lists, particularly as Amazon.com topped the list of online retailers on Black Friday. Among laptops (not netbooks), Apple on the list with the top three laptops (click above image to enlarge).

That's at the time of this writing, of course, and the top wished for laptop period is really a netbook, a version of the Asus Eee PC. Still in terms of "real" notebooks, Apple took the top three spots.

Those three, in order, were the following:
  • Apple MacBook MC207LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop
  • Apple MacBook Pro MB991LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop
  • Apple MacBook Pro MB990LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop
Realistically, two of those are really the same laptop with different specifications. However, speaking of realism, let's look at the "most gifted" laptop section of Amazon.com to see if people are getting those MacBooks they want.

The answer is, sort of. One of the MacBook Pros listed above, the Apple MacBook Pro MB990LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop is number 3 on the "most gifted" list, which the MacBook listed above is number 4 on the list. The top two are a Toshiba Satellite laptop and an Acer Aspire notebook (which verges on netbook specs). The other MacBook Pro listed above is way down at number 11.

Interestingly, the MacBooks all come in Amazon.com's "frustration-free" packaging, which is a boon to most people, but there are some who actually save their Mac boxes, so those people wouldn't be too happy. Also not to happy: Microsoft. While they have the top two "gifted" laptops in Amazon.com's list, it has to be grating to see the Mac placement in the "most wished for" list.


Walmart, Amazon.com Hot Sites On Thanksgiving, Black Friday

Market research firm Experian Hitwise has announced the big online winners for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, and the world's biggest retailer won the day on Thranksgiving, but on Black Friday, it was the world's biggest online retailer.

Walmart was the top visited Retail Website on Thanksgiving Day among the top 500 Retail Web sites. This is the fifth year in a row that Wal-Mart was the top visited site on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, Amazon.com was the second most visited site on Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday, however, Amazon.com was the top visited Retail Website among the top 500 Retail Websites. In fact, it swapped positions with Walmart, which was the number 2 most visited site on Black Friday.

The overall numbers weren't too good, however. For Thanksgiving Day, in fact:
  • Among the top 500 Retail Web sites, the percentage of U.S. visits were down 15% on Thanksgiving Day in 2009 compared to Thanksgiving Day 2008. The U.S. traffic to Black Friday sites on Thanksgiving Day was down 4% compared to 2008.
  • The top visited Retail Web site on Thanksgiving Day 2009 was Walmart.com receiving 15% of U.S. visits among the top 500 Retail Web sites.
  • Amazon.com was the second most visited with 12.41% of visits followed by BestBuy.com with 6.22%. Target.com was the fourth most visited with 5.63% followed by Sears with 3.78%. (Attached are the top 20 sites for Thanksgiving Day 2009).
  • Among the top 20 sites visited on Thanksgiving Day 2009, Old Navy saw the largest increase in visits compared to 2008 with a 59% increase, Amazon saw a 30% increase year-over-year (YoY) and Target saw a 28% increase. Wal-Mart had a 9% increase and the Apple Store site saw an 8% increase.
  • Wal-Mart was the top site to receive traffic from Black Friday sites on Thanksgiving Day 2009 with an 11% increase in traffic compared to 2008. BestBuy and Target received the second and third most traffic from Black Friday sites. Facebook received the largest increase in visits YoY with a 671%.
  • According to Akamai, global retail traffic peaked on the U.S. Thanksgiving Day (11/26/09) at 5,732,966 visitors per minute at around 2pm EST. On the same day, North America traffic peaked at 4,095,242 visitors per minute at around 10pm EST.
Experian Hitwise's Black Friday data showed more interesting information, and more disappointing numbers. Compared to Thanksgiving Day 2009, Black Friday 2009 was up 4%. However, when compared YoY with Black Friday 2009, visits were down 9%. Also:
  • The top visited Retail Website on Black Friday 2009 was Amazon receiving 13.55 % of U.S. visits among the top 500 Retail Web sites. This is the second year in a row that Amazon was the top visited site on Black Friday.
  • Wal-Mart was the second most visited with 11.18 % of visits followed by Target.com with 5.65%, BestBuy.com with 4.62%. followed by Sears with 2.95%. (Attached are the top 20 sites for Black Friday 2009).
  • Among the top 20 sites visited on Black Friday 2009, The Apple Store saw the largest increase in visits compared to Thanksgiving day 2009 with a 110% increase, Staples saw a 47% increase YoY and Dell saw a 40% increase. Amazon had a 9% increase.
  • Wal-Mart was the top site to receive traffic from Black Friday sites on Black Friday 2009 with a 32% increase in traffic compared to 2008. BestBuy and Target received the second and third most traffic from Black Friday sites. Among the top 10 sites to receive traffic from Black Friday sites on Black Friday, Target received the largest increase in visits YoY with 110%.
Market research firm comScore has already forecast a 3% rise in online sales from last year's holiday season. The disappointment there is that last year holiday online sales dropped 3%, the first such drop since comScore began tracking online sales in 2001. This would just bring the state of holiday online shopping even with that of 2007, a sad state of affairs.
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U.K. Pub Fined For Copyright Infringement Over Free Wi-Fi

It's a grey area, but something that small shops and providers of free wi-fi might want to begin thinking about. What happens if someone comes into your business, and uses your free wi-fi to download copyrighted material? For a pub in the U.K., it's an expensive question, to the tune of $13,000 (£8k).

Hotspot provider The Cloud wouldn't give many details, but it said that it believes the case to be the first of its kind in the U.K. The fine had been issued in a civil case, brought by a rights holder, "sometime this summer." They would not identify the pub, because its owner had not yet given permission for the case to be publicized. However, The Cloud's larger pub clients include Fullers, Greene King, Marsdens, Scottish & Newcastle, Mitchell & Butlers and Punch Taverns.

Hopping onto a free wi-fi hotspot, or even a paid one, to access P2P networks certainly is not unheard of, just not well-publicized. It wouldn't be difficult to imaging it being quite popular among the downloading crowd.

However, law professor Lilian Edwards of Sheffield Law School said that, in theory, under existing "substantive copyright law," a business could be classified as a public communications service provider, which would make it exempt from being responsible for such illegal downloads. This agrees with legal advice sent to The Cloud by the law firm Faegre & Benson on August 17th of this year, where they said "Wi-Fi hotspots in public and enterprise environments providing access to the internet to members of the public, free or paid, are public communications services". As a public communications service, only the users of the hotspot would be liable for copyright infringement.

While it's unclear if this would apply in the U.S. as well, Earlier this month, an entire town's free wi-fi was shut down because of one, count 'em, one, illegal download.

Coshocton's wi-fi was provided free by the town, but it only covered one square block surrounding the Coshocton County Courthouse, not the entire town. Still, the MPAA moved to shut down the service after one illegal movie download, reported authorities.

While used for one illegal download, the service has, or had, official uses. For example, Coshocton County Sheriff’s deputies would park in the 300 block near the courthouse so they could complete a traffic or incident report without leaving their vehicle.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Apple Begins 4th-Gen iPhone Field Tests

This news shouldn't surprise anyone, certainly not in terms of location. Apple has begun field-testing the 4th generation iPhone in the San Francisco Bay Area. Developers of the iPhone app iBART, which is used to help commuters around the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART), Pandav, have reported the finding via the Pinch Media analytics used in their applications.

The Cupertino-based company probably has engineers and testers using BART throughout the Bay Area.

Pinch Media's analytics breaks down customer usage by specific devices as referenced by the internal device ID numbers assigned by Apple. The original iPhone is iPhone1,1; the iPhone 3G is iPhone1,2, and the iPhone 3GS is iPhone2.1 This new device ID is iPhone3,1, which was first seen in beta versions of iPhone OS 3.0 way back in March, but wasn't seen "live" until now.

Apple similarly began testing the iPhone 3GS way back in October 2008 and Pinch Media saw the new device ID string for quite some time in their numbers before reporting it.

Typical of new iPhones, there is very little information about the device, at least yet. The biggest rumor is that AT&T may lose exclusivity for the hot app phone, with Verizon getting the device (and probably tons of defectors) at the time of the next iPhone refresh in mid-2010.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Roomba Takes Down A Deadly Viper

You probably have done this yourself: used your vacuum cleaner and gotten something wrapped around a rotating brush, perhaps a string. In this case a Roomba, that autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner, did the same, but with a deadly viper in Israel.

According to the report from Israel's Yediot Acharonot newspaper, Efi and Eli Frida left the house last week with the Roomba running. When they came back, the Roomba was beeping. After a few failed attempts, the family discovered the viper wrapped around the Roomba's rotating brush, dead.

Vipers are venomous, and the family has two children and two dogs, so the Roomba is somewhat of a hero in the family. iRobot, makers of the Roomba, were so excited to hear the news of the "heroic" Roomba they provided the family with a new unit.

The picture of the unfortunate reptile above is via Facebook.
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Microsoft Releases Windows 7 "Family Guy" Clips

You'll recall that Microsoft had first decided to sponsor a "Family Guy" episode earlier in the year, but then decided to pull its sponsorship. The reason for backing out of the deal was that Microsoft finally realized just how un-poltically correct "Family Guy" is.

One might have expected that to be the end of the story. Unexpectedly, however, Microsoft has released the clips online, at their official Windows YouTube channel. Of course, being clips about Windows 7 as Microsoft has planned the whole episode to be, there's not much political incorrectness in tthese clips. One of these was previously released (the first), but take a look.

A few small clips is OK, but could you imagine the horror of a full episode like these?







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BitTorrent Site Mininova Goes Totally Legit

All it takes is a little loss in the legal arena, and boom! Mininova, the world's largest BitTorrent site, has removed all torrents except those that were uploaded through its Content Distribution service. That service allows producers and artists to easily publish and distribute their content through Mininova for free. Basically, this decision means everything not legal and legitimate is now gone from the site.

While a score! for the RIAA, the MPAA, and anyone of that ilk, it certainly puts a damper on BitTorrent users. This follows by a little over a week The Pirate Bay's decision to shut down their tracker. Dark times, dark times indeed. Here's what they said on their blog:
According to the verdict (Dutch link) we have to prevent uploads of torrents to Mininova that refer to certain titles or to similar-looking titles. We’ve been testing some filtering systems the last couple of months, but we found that it’s neither technically nor operationally possible to implement a 100% working filter system. Therefore, we decided that the only option is to limit Mininova to Content Distribution torrents from now on. We are still considering an appeal at this moment.
The verdict they speak of is one they lost to hey Dutch anti-piracy firm BREIN.

Since the the demise of Suprnova, Mininova has ruled been the tops among P2P sites. While Mininova didn't track torrents, it did have links to nearly every torrent available. While there will inevitably be sites that step in to take Mininova's place, this decision leaves a gaping hole in the P2P network space.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

iPhone App Rejected? There's A Website For That

The App Store approval, or sometimes, rejection process has been a contentious subject of late. Sometimes Apple rejects an application for what seems to be draconian, or even nonsensical reasons. Sometimes they approve an app, also nonsensically. Well, if your app falls into the former, rejected category, there's a site for that.

The site is AppRejections.com, launched just days ago by UK-based iPhone developer Adam Martin. The site purports to track and catalog all the "unusual" and "unfair" rejections from the App Store.

The site will also note when a previously rejected app has bee approved, generally after some degree of publicity and protest. Ironically, the site owner himself has seen an app be rejected recently.

Here's the site's mission statement, in part:
In late 2009, things changed (I’ll write more about this later). Google cried “FOUL!” and triggered an FCC investigation of Apple and AT&T’s business practices over a rejected app. The invisible submission process changed radically shortly after – and in particular the number of truly “unfair” rejections soared.

It’s now gone from “easy” to “tricky” to avoid having your App rejected by Apple.

Since Apple point-blank refuses to document the criteria – or even to discuss the matter on anything except a case-by-case basis – I decided to collate all the known examples of rejected Apps. And so this site was born…
While Martin states that prior to the Google Voice rejection, Apple's rejections seemed to have at least some degree of rhyme or reason, I'm not so sure I agree with that. The examples I gave above, in fact, occurred before the Google Voice rejection.

At any rate, the site will still be a wealth of information of what's getting rejected from the App Store. Perhaps, if the FCC deigned to read it, it might even help get things in the App Store fixed, or at least "open."

Speaking of Google Voice, the site also notes that the Google Voice applications that use to work, and were sold prior to Apple's change in stance on Google Voice, no longer work. That's true, although there are still Google Voice applications that do work. They just require a jailbroken iPhone, and are free on the Cydia store for jailbroken devices.

Keep it up Apple; you're driving more people to jailbreak their iPhones by continuing to "wall off" your garden.
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4iThumbs Gives iPhones A Tactile Keyboard (Sort Of)

4iThumbs has released a tactile keyboard overlay that fits on top of your iPhone screen. It provides tactile feedback to those of us who, despite our best efforts, just can't get typing on a touch screen down as much as we might something with a QWERTY keyboard that we can feel.

I've always said, as morbid as it might be, that someone buried in a major earthquake in the SF Bay Area would be SOL in the event of being buried in rubble, if he couldn't see his iPhone's screen. Unlike a QWERTY keyboard on say, a BlackBerry, you can't feel the keys on an iPhone and thus won't be able to dial, unless you can manage to voice dial on an iPhone 3GS (not iPhone or iPhone 3G).

On the other hand, the 4iThumbs product (portrait mode $14.95 or landscape mode $16.95, $19.95 for both) fits right on top of your on-screen iPhone keyboard (assume you install it correctly); it can be easily removed and reportedly doesn't interfere with the touch screen of the iPhone.

According to the inventor, Jery Rosengarten, "4iThumbs is an iPhone typing aid that helps users increase typing speed and accuracy. Whether you choose to keep the attachment or use it like training wheels, the beauty of this product is that it maintains the sleek look of the device while enhancing usability and offers a bridge for those who want an iPhone but avoid it because they need tactile feedback to type quickly."

My only question is will the product work through the case I use, which has a full glass front that's touch through.

Watch videos that detail the installation and use of the product:



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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swype Takes On The iPhone's Keyboard, And Wins

There will be arguments about this for a long time, as it's unclear how experienced the iPhone typist in this demo video is. Based purely on the video, it would appear that Swype, the new text input technology from the inventor of the T9 keyboard technology for numeric keypads, Cliff Kushler, has the upper hand.

Swype uses a on-screen keyboard as the iPhone does, but rather than typing one character at a time, you "swipe" your finger, holding it down until you reach the end of the word, sliding from key to key in the meantime. When the word is complete, you lift your finger.

In the video, the Swypist does a pretty good job. Whether or not it really would be an experienced iPhone typist is questionable, but one could see the technology being more accurate than pecking on an on-screen keyboard.

The technology will first appear on the Samsung Omnia 2, a Windows Mobile 6.5 device expected to be released by Verizon in early December. Next up, according to the company, is a new Android phone in the first quarter of 2010.

The iPhone? I'd love to see this technology to be on the iPhone, but guess what? It probably won't happen, for the obvious draconian Apple reasons.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Essential iPhone Accessories Include A Cell Phone: Newsweek

Newsweek has posted an article titled "Dial A for Accessory," which lists a set of must-have accessories for iPhone users. Number eight out of eight on the list: another cell phone.

This all centers around that fact that for many users, as a cell phone, the iPhone fails, and fails badly. For example, thirty percent of calls in New York City are dropped, and that's typical, according to Apple's Genius Bar.

Newsweek also gives AT&T a jab, noting that for reliability, the accessory cell phone should be on the Verizon network. The magazine cites AT&T's network as well as poor battery life for reasons to have a backup cell phone.

Less snarkily, the other accessories listed in the article include headphones, cases, and battery extenders.
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Record Exec Arrested For Not Tweeting

Well, here's a new one. A record label executive was arrested for not Tweeting. We're not talking about not pretending to be a bird, but rather for not posting a message on Twitter. This has to be a first in law enforcement.

Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber was scheduled to appear at the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, NY for an album signing on Saturday. Thousands of teenage girls turned out to mob him. Unfortunately, Bieber didn't show; he stayed away because the crowd had become too unruly (which was probably the right move).

Fearing a riot, police asked a senior VP from Island Def Jam Records, Bieber's label to Tweet a message to the crowd to disperse. James A. Roppo, 44, of Hoboken, NJ, has been arrested for not Tweeting, with police saying he hindered their crowd-control efforts by not cooperating.

Roppo has been charged with family assault, endangering the welfare of a child, obstruction of governmental administration, reckless endangerment and criminal nuisance.

Police said that the assault charge stemmed from Roppo's "reckless behavior" which resulted in a minor injury to one police officer trying to control the crowd. Additionally, Diane Peress, Nassau assistant district attorney, said that Roppo created a "very dangerous situation" by failing to help police disperse the fans gathered on a second-floor balcony.

Whether or not Roppo did so, someone in the Bieber camp did send two Tweets. One was at 4:30 EST and said:
they are not allowing me to come into the mall. if you dont leave I and my fans will be arrested as the police just told us.
Three minutes later, a second message:
the event at roosevelt mall is cancelled. please go home. the police have already arrested one person from my camp. I dont want anyone hurt
Robin Charlow, criminal and constitutional law professor at Hofstra University told Newsday that "If you don't do something, you normally can't be charged for not acting. But if you have some kind of legal duty to act, that's when you could be charged."

Of course, looking at video of the event, does anyone think that a Tweet from a record executive would have made a difference? Probably not.
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Apple Jumps In To Defend Its BFF, AT&T, Against Verizon

Apple has decided it's time to defend its BFF, AT&T, which has been under assault by Verizon over its 3G network. A pair of new Apple ads pick at the parts of Verizon's network that are vulnerable to back up its iPhone partner.

Both of the new iPhone ads aim to remind folks that Verizon's CDMA network can't support both voice and data connections at the same time. Thus, if you're on the phone, you can't get an email or browse the web simultaneously. Watch the video for "Did You See My Email" below:

Watch the video for "What Time's The Movie" below, which shows the iPhone using different applications to find a movie while staying connected on a call:

The only problem I see with this conjecture is that it assumes that your call isn't dropped, as it is with 30% of the calls in, for example, New York City.
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Microsoft, News Corp., Eyeing Web Deal?

Rupert Murdoch has made no secret of his plans to monetize his News Corp. web sites by making them "pay-only," and he's also made no secret of his boast to block Google from spidering his websites' content. According to the Financial Times, Google's arch-rival, Microsoft, might see those de-spidering plans as an opportunity.

FT, citing an anonymouse source, says that Microsoft and News Corp. are in the early stages of discussion on a deal whereby Microsoft would pay News Corp. (and others) to "de-list" themselves from Google's search engine. Microsoft has spent much of 2009 making strides toward impacting Google's market share, including teaming with Yahoo! and the Bing search engine.

The source told the FT that they had been approached by Microsoft, and that the plan "puts enormous value on content if search engines are prepared to pay us to index with them. This is all about Microsoft hurting Google’s margins."

This could offer newspapers a lifeline. Newspapers have seen ad revenue and circulation drop as people surge toward the free (though ad-supported) news content on the web; if Microsoft (or Google) were to pay for indexing that content, newspapers could become a growth industry of sorts, again.

It would be difficult to imagine that links to News Corp. content couldn't be found on sites that Google was free to index, unless News Corp. and Microsoft could find a way to suspend "fair use" (as AP is apparently looking toward). It's also hard to imagine indexing (or not) of news to be the straw that breaks the (Google) camel's back.

It is an interesting concept, though, and it is clear that News Corp. is moving in that direction anyway, so why not take Microsoft's money?
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Monday, November 23, 2009

New Malicious iPhone Worm Targets Jailbroken Devices

A number of iPhone worms have been released recently, all targeted at jailbroken iPhones. On Saturday, Sophos reported on a new worm that is a lot more malicious than these earlier attempts.

Of the ones we reported on recently, the first was a little on the lame side, although it forced you to restore your iPhone, if you didn't want to pay a 5 euro "blackmail fee." The second was just plain silly, and more proof-of-concept, and all it did was "rickroll" your iPhone. There was a third iPhone worm that uploaded your iPhone data to a site, and that is along the same lines as this new one.

The reason these worms only attack jailbroken iPhones is that if you jailbreak your device, and do not reset the SSH password, anyone could get into your iPhone. This is because the default SU password is the well known "alpine." In fact, to become infected, these iPhones have to satisfy the following conditions:
  • The iPhone must be jailbroken
  • SSH must be enabled (on)
  • The root superuser (SU) password has not been changed from "alpine"
It's not that hard to change the password, though it does require some work (more on that later).

The new worm turns your iPhone into a bot, like a traditional PC worm might. Two startup scripts are created, as well, one which execute the worm on iPhone boot-up, and the other which creates a connection to a Lithuanian server to upload stolen data. Additionally, the worm changes root password which, if the user had modified it himself, would have prevented this whole mess, from the default of "alpine" to "ohshit." The easy way to remove the malware from your iPhone is to restore the Apple factory firmware using iTunes.

People jailbreak their iPhones to give them access to features and functionality that Apple won't allow in the App Store. By doing so, however, they open this security hole, which is easily closed if you follow the following steps to change the SU password:
  1. Install the MobileTerminal package from Cydia.
  2. Run the app (named Terminal on your iPhone screen).
  3. Type "su root" without the quotes and touch return.
  4. Type the root password "alpine;" hit return. You are now logged in as root.
  5. Type "passwd;" hit return.
  6. Enter your new password. They won't be echoed to the screen, not even as "*," BTW. Hit return; you will be prompted to re-enter the password.
  7. Enter the new password again; hit return.
  8. Type "exit" and touch return.
Once done; you're safe, but be sure to remember the SU password. It's sad that jailbreaking is necessary to enable useful behavior that Apple deems unworthy (Like background processing, for example), but nothing's going to change there soon, if ever.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Smoking Can Void Your AppleCare Warranty

Smoking can be hazardous to your health, but it can also be hazardous to your Mac, apparently, to the point that it will void your warranty. That information comes from two readers of The Consumerist, but in reality, it all makes sense.

Has anyone looked at the walls of a long-term smoker's house? I have, in terms of my mother's house. The walls were covered with a thin layer of gook that had to be scrubbed off. Yes, it was tar.

That's what Apple is really complaining about, and based on comments in the post, that's what technicians wouldn't want to deal with. Although the excuse used by Apple of OSHA prohibiting such repair is somewhat lame (gloves?), tar like that would be a real pain to chisel off, say, the heatsink.

Here are some excerpts from the letters to The Consumerist. First from Derek:
I took my mid 2007 apple macbook (black) into the Jordan Creek Apple Store in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, April 25th, because I had been experiencing some issues with it overheating, and figured the fan was bad. After some initial testing, they took the computer in for work under my Applecare plan, which has over a year remaining on it.

Today, April, 28, 2008, the Apple store called and informed me that due to the computer having been used in a house where there was smoking, that has voided the warranty and they refuse to work on the machine, due to "health risks of second hand smoke".

Not only is this faulty science, attributing non smoking residue to second hand smoke, on Chad's part, no where in your applecare terms of service can I find anything mentioning being used in a smoking environment as voiding the warranty.
Truthfully, there's no secondhand smoke possible, unless the computer lights up itself. On the other hand, there's this letter from Ruth:
I bought an iMac for my son (for school) along with the extended Applecare warranty. A month ago, it quit working. My son took it to the authorized Mac service center. The "tech" informed him it would be ready in 48-72 hours. Five days go by and he's heard nothing, so I called. They informed me that his computer can't be worked on because it's contaminated.

When I asked for an explanation, she said he's a smoker and it's contaminated with cigarette smoke which they consider a bio-hazard! I checked my Applecare warranty and it says nothing about not honoring warranties if the owner is a smoker. The Applecare representative said they defer to the technician and my son's computer cannot be fixed at any Apple Service Center due to being listed a bio-hazard.

This computer cost approx. $3,000, with the extended warranty. I'm all for destroying cigarettes and putting big tobacco out of business (yes, I'm a reformed smoker), but to label a computer a biohazard because one is a smoker is going a bit too far in regulating who can have the warranty they purchased honored. Shouldn't there be some disclaimer stating that they won't honor warranties from smokers?
Ruth went further, and emailed Steve Jobs' office, but as with Derek (who attempted the same thing), it ended in failure. Dena, from Steve Jobs' office told her the damage was irreparable, and that working on it was an OSHA violation.

I'm trying to see both sides of the argument. From the side of the consumer, I can see "repair" might be difficult, but how about just replacing the parts? An optical drive is pretty cheap; so is a hard drive.

Looking at it from Apple's side of things, how is this any different than spilling soda on a PC? It's something the consumer did to their PC themselves. It's not because of a manufacturer defect. Of course, the OSHA comment was very lame; tar is a carcinogen, but there are these things called gloves.

Back to the consumer side of things, these people apparently did pay for AppleCare. So readers, what do you think? Should Apple fix these computers?
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Barnes & Noble's nook Sold Out For The Holidays

Barnes & Noble's nook e-book reader is already sold out for this holiday season, according to a report on the company's website. Apparently, buyers weren't too concerned about Spring Design's lawsuit against B&N.

This announcement, coupled with Sony's earlier announcement that its Daily Edition Reader will ship between December 18th and the first week of January, meaning it will likely miss the holiday delivery season, is bad news for e-book reader fans. While still a small market, e-book readers are gaining in popularity, and this now makes the Amazon Kindle the only e-book reader that consumers can buy for holiday delivery.

Sony is still selling two non-wireless Readers, The Pocket and the Touch. Those can't download e-books over-the-air, however. Rather, they must be plugged into PCs to download books.

Barnes & Noble says customers currently ordering a nook will receive their devices the week of Jan. 4th. You'll get a piece of paper to put into a Christmas card, in place of the nook itself. It has to make you wonder if B&N (and Sony, too) rushed the device(s) out to get them on the shelves in time for the holiday ordering, if not the holiday shipping season.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Woman Loses Disability Insurance Over Facebook Photos

We've discussed how using Facebook and other social networking sites can get you fired, or even keep you from getting a job. In this case, a Canadian woman lost her disability insurance payment because of Facebook photos.

Before anyone asks, it's disability insurance, not the Universal Health Care that Canada has. So, in this case, it's not covered by their Universal Health system.

Nathalie Blanchard, 29, from Quebec, has been disabled from her position at IBM for one and a half years due to deep depression. During that period, she has received monthly disability checks from Manulife. Those, however, recently stopped coming.

When BLanchard checked with Manulife, she was told that based on the Facebook pictures Manulife had seen, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a vacation at the beach, she is no longer depressed.

A few questions arise at this point. According to Nathalie Blanchard, she had her Facebook privacy settings enabled. So, just how did Manulife access her photos?

Additionally, Blanchard added that "having fun" was her doctor's advice. As a way to forget her problems, she followed his advice, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short vacations.

Her lawyer Tom Lavin said "I don't think for judging a mental state that Facebook is a very good tool. It's not as if somebody had a broken back and there was a picture of them carrying with a load of bricks. My client was diagnosed with a major depression. And there were pictures of her on Facebook, in a party or having a good time. It could be that she was just trying to escape."

Lavin added that he has requested another psychiatric evaluation for Blanchard.

Manulife confirmed to the CBC that they do use Facebook for these sorts of "checks," but added that they would not solely use Facebook to make a judgment.

Regarding the possible depression that Blanchard faces and the so-called "happiness ban" that Manulife seems to have instituted, I consulted with Dr. Dominika Osmolska, PsyD, about the issue.

She said, "Just because you're at the beach doesn't mean you aren't depressed. People to go the ocean to drown themselves, to make it 'beautiful.' A few Facebook photos does not prove you are mentally healthy."

She did add, however, that most people who are clinically depressed to the point of being disabled for 1 1/2 years would be unlikely to want to leave the house. That is, of course, not an absolute.

It is troubling that said she had her profile "locked" and yet Manulife was able to view it. If that is the case, than none of us on Facebook are safe. I have emailed Facebook with a request for a comment on this.



"What Happening" At Twitter? A Sea Change

It seems like a very slight change, two characters less, but the meaning is definitely different. Today Twitter changed its familiar question which you would answer in a Tweet from "What are you doing?" to "What's Happening?"

It's a nod to something that's been obvious for some time: while Twitter was first envisioned as a service that allowed people to say what they "were doing," it's become a service that's being used to broadcast news and more. It's less about what a person is doing, and more an information resource used by whomever wants to use it.

Thus, we see this change. It's a small number of characters, but it certainly shows how Twitter has grown. As founder Biz Stone said in a blog post about the change:
The fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates. Twitter helps you share and discover what's happening now among all the things, people, and events you care about. "What are you doing?" isn't the right question anymore—starting today, we've shortened it by two characters. Twitter now asks, "What's happening?"
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Google Details The Chrome OS

Google held an event on Thursday to unveil details about is Chrome OS, which was first announced in July. Prior to Thursday, only miniscule details about the OS were known, including it running on netbooks, and delivery of the final product in the second half of 2010.

First, as part of its announcement today, Google said that Google would be releasing all of the operating system’s code and design documents to the public. Chrome OS is a Linux-based, open-source operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser. “As of today, the code will be fully open, which means Google developers will be working on the same tree as open developers,” said Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management for Google.

So besides being open-source, Linux-based, and centered on Google's Chrome browser, what else can be said about the Chrome OS? In a nutshell, Chrome OS IS the Chrome browser. Basically, everything runs through the cloud, included applications, and in reality what you have is the Google Chrome browser extended, with the help, probably, of BIOS extensions from the OEMs Google will partner with, to run a complete netbook or other computing device.

That's the view in a nutshell, and you can see this would be a great way for Google to move more end users to its cloud-based services and applications, like Google Docs. However, on Thursday, Google emphasized speed, speed and more speed for its Chrome OS. Being built on Google's Chrome browser, the OS will be lightweight. Google intends, as well, for the OS to boot up near instantaneously. Right now, Google says Chrome boots in 7 seconds.

Chrome OS will be user installable, but only on a "Chrome OS device." The initial focus will be netbooks, from manufacturers that Google is working with. At least, that's the plan for 2010; Google wants to run on laptops, desktops, etc. eventually.

All the applications will run through the Web, like Google Docs. Think of it as a "cloud device," although if an app wants to run offline, it can. You'll remember that some Google web-based apps can already do this, using Google Gears.

For security, remember how everything in Chrome (the browser) is sandboxed, so that web-based malware is encapsulated and unable to affect the rest of the system? The Chrome OS will work similarly. As Google said, right now all apps in a typical OS have the same privileges as you do. In the Chrome OS, all apps will be untrusted by default.

In order to work on a whole device, and to be able to work when a USB device is plugged in, Google will have to create drivers. That's probably the most challenging portion of the project; Microsoft, despite its foibles, should be applauded for making Windows run on most hardware without a glitch. Granted, drivers are written by OEMs, but Microsoft still must certify them.

No pricing was announced, and not hard deadlines. However, Google was pretty clear about a late 2010 release, and if Google Chrome OS is netbook-centric, we may see devices in the $200 - 600 range. We may even see lower prices if Google "gives" the OS away.

Watch a video about Chrome OS.
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Irony: Microsoft Banned From Selling Windows In China

Irony of ironies. Microsoft has been banned from selling Windows in China, the ultimate land of piracy. One would think it might be the other way around (if it were possible, that is).

The ban arose after a Beijing court ruled that Microsoft violated its licensing agreement with Zhongyi Electronic. The products in question, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 and Windows 98 include Chinese fonts designed by the company. However, Zhongyi said that the agreement it signed with Microsoft only allowed it to use the special fonts in Windows 95.

Microsoft said it plans to appeal the ruling, and in a unintentionally hilarious statement added it "respects intellectual property rights" and uses the intellectual property of third parties "only when we have a legitimate right to do so". The hilarity of course, results from the country of origin of the complaint, China.

In August, four people were jailed in China for selling a bootleg version of Windows XP. State -operated Xinhua news agency called it China's biggest software piracy case to date.

Meanwhile, last month Microsoft was faced with the dire prospect of seeing bootleg copies of Windows 7 flooding the Chinese market, even before the new system went on sale.
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Palm Pixi, Pre Prices Slashed At Amazon.com

Hopefully you didn't pay $100 for the Palm Pixi when it launched a few days ago. If you did, you probably feel seriously ticked off, as you can now get the Palm Pixi at Amazon.com for a mere $25, and without having to mail any rebates in.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com has cut the Palm Pre's price to $80, matching a previously announced offer from Wal-Mart (and Let's Talk). However, as I said, the Amazon.com deals are super-easy, and don't involve any rebate forms.

They do, of course, require a two-year service plan.

Amazon.com doesn't note any end date for these prices, however, if you don't sign up by Monday you will lose out on a Sprint free activation offer.

One thing's clear: the $100 and under space is becoming full of smartphones, with the exception of the highest profile ones, such as the iPhone and the Droid. It's going to be an interesting holiday shopping season.
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AT&T Loses The First Round In Its Ad War

AT&T has lost round one in its fight against Verizon's anti-ATT-network ads. The company has sued Verizon, saying the maps and statements made in the latest Verizon ads confuse consumers.

At issue in the lawsuit, the maps (above) compare Verizon and AT&T 3G coverage. AT&T says that the maps are interpreted by many as indicating that AT&T has not coverage in those areas not marked blue in their map. Instead they simply indicate a lack of 3G coverage.

It's clear that Verizon has the advantage in terms of 3G coverage in the U.S., though their CDMA technology has plenty of minuses. At least, however, they don't drop 30 percent of their calls.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten Sr. refused to serve Verizon with an injunction against showing the ads. He said that people might “misunderstand” the commercials, “but that doesn’t mean they’re misleading.” At the same time, he noted that most people, when watching TV, aren't all that attentive anyway. “Most people who are watching TV are semi-catatonic. They’re not fully alive.”

Of course, he didn't list another reason to forego the injunction: as more people buy DVRs, they aren't watching commercials anyway.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is The Real Google Phone Coming?

When Google first started working on the Android platform, it was believed to be a smartphone, nicknamed the Google Phone or gPhone. Since then, Android the platform has emerged, and thoughts of a Google Phone have vanished. But should they have?

A new report indicates that the Google Phone may be a reality in early 2010. The phone will be produced by a major phone manufacturer, but will have only Google branding. It was originally planned for this holiday season, but has been delayed until early 2010.

Now, there's already been much discussion around this, with some saying that there's no way that Google would do this, as it would alienate handset manufacturers. Additionally, just last month Google vice president of engineering for Android at Google Andy Rubinsaid "We're not making hardware. We're enabling other people to build hardware."

Technically, they still wouldn't be making the hardware, but anyway, those arguments actually make sense, but now there's a new theory: a data-only, VOIP device that integrates with Google Voice and thus technically isn't really a phone.

Technically is the key word, because it will still have the capabilities of a phone, as long as it can connect to a data network and work through Google Voice. According to the new report, AT&T is interested in this already.

AT&T isn't against data only plans either. You can get a data-only plan on Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices (not on the iPhone) so it's not out of the question for them to take this sort of approach.

Of course, since AT&T's network is already overloaded by the data-centric abilities of the iPhone, do we need still more data-hogging devices on that network?
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