Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time-Warner Posts Instructions On Cutting The Cable

Saber-rattling between Time-Warner Cable and New Corp.'s Fox continues as the two have not settled their dispute over rates that the TWC will pay News Corp for Fox and its associated channels (Fox News, FX, etc., etc.). If all goes down as threatened, when the New Year rings in, it will be without any Fox channels on TWC.

Whether or not it actually happens remains to be seen. After all, no less that the FCC's Chairman Julius Genachowski said he has "urged Fox and Time Warner Cable to agree to a temporary extension of carriage if they do not come to terms on a new carriage agreement today." It could end up like TWC's dust-up with Viacom last year, which settled at the last second. Or it could be like DirecTV's negotiations with Versus, which resulted in Versus being shut down in September.

With all this going on, you might expect some enmity, and thus TWC has posted instructions on how to cut the cable, meaning how to head to Hulu, Fancast, or "any search engine" to find their shows. They can then use TWC's instructions (below) on how to connect your PC to a TV, and watch sans cable (TV, at least).

In a way this is like cutting off your nose to spite your face, as the horror that cable and satellite companies imagine is that people actually start doing this en masse. Companies like TWC and Comcast would still be needed for the Internet, but they might lose their TV subscriptions.

Naturally, not that many people would go this far, but it is something that some people actually have done, already. Through the use of Hulu or some other method (BitTorrent), they get everything via the Internet, one way or another.

Of course, there's always the one thing that will draw people back to TV: live sports and live events. Those are typically not broadcast as they happen. Anyone want to miss the Super Bowl?

As far as if this cut-off really happens, it looks like it will come down to the wire. The last major shutdown of major proportions came in 2004, when Viacom and Dish Network couldn't reach an accord, and a number of stations, including CBS, horrifically for CSI fans, were shut down for a few days.

Read the instructions below, as well as a video (not too professionally made, as there's some nasty coughing around 2:30).

Update: The two companies reached agreement Friday evening. The agreement, said to be "in principle," also includes the Bright House cable network.



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Apple Wins iPod Hearing Loss Appeal

Now hear this: Apple's iPod earbuds can't be blamed for an unreasonable risk of noise-induced hearing loss. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruling, issued on Wednesday, mirrors an earlier decision made in district court in 2008.

The lawsuit was filed by an iPod customer in Louisiana, Joseph Birdsong, and another customer from California, Bruce Waggoner, in 2006. It was dismissed because, the appeals court said, because the plaintiffs failed to show any damage from iPod earbuds, just the potential for damage. Senior Judge David Thompson wrote:
"The plaintiffs do not allege the iPods failed to do anything they were designed to do nor do they allege that they, or any others, have suffered or are substantially certain to suffer inevitable hearing loss or other injury from iPod use. At most, the plaintiffs plead a potential risk of hearing loss not to themselves, but to other unidentified iPod users."
The suit alleged that the design of the iPod ear buds encouraged deep insertion into the ear canal, and therefore increases the risk of hearing damage. They also said that iPods pose a danger because of their lack of volume meters or noise-isolating properties, despite being capable of producing sound as loud as 115 decibels

The plaintiffs had requested monetary damages, redesigned headphones, and improved safety messages included with the product. After the company was sued, they issued a software update offering more volume control, including parental controls, on their music players. Interestingly, at the time of that software update, Apple had already modified their iPods in France to play no louder than 100 decibels.
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Google Phone Pricing Leaks: $530 Unlocked, $180 With T-Mobile

For those who thought Google would revolutionize things by offering the Google Phone or HTC Nexus One unlocked, period, with no operator, and still have it priced reasonably, here's your wake-up call. Based on leaked information, the Google Phone will reportedly sell for $530 unlocked, and $180 locked to a carrier, namely T-Mobile.

The hope had been that Google, whose moves into the smartphone arena are really about getting its online products into more hands, would sell the phone for cost. Obviously, an unsubsidized price of $530 shows this is just another Android handset, though still the "Google Phone," which carries some cult status with it.

There's only one rate plan for those who choose the subsidized option, and that's a 2-year plan which gives you 500 minutes of talk time (which nowadays is pretty lame) and unlimited text and data for $80. If you have a cheaper plan currently in place, you can't keep it. However, it makes sense to do the math. If you have a cheap enough plan, you might save money by buying the unsubsidized Google Phone (which they will apparently call the Nexus One).

More badness for those who might decided to cancel their plan early: if you cancel your plan before 120 days, you must pay the difference between what you paid and the unsubsidized price, meaning $350. Alternatively, you can return the phone to Google.

Without the possibility that Google is going to open new vistas in cell phone sales, meaning an unsubsidized phone without a huge premium, this phone becomes a lot less interesting. Still, here's what we currently know about the phone, spec-wise:
  • 512 MB of RAM and ROM
  • 4 GB microSD card included; support for up to 32 GB of removable storage
  • 3.7″ AMOLED display with WVGA resolution
  • 5-megapixel camera with 2x digital zoom
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support
  • 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD 8250 processor
  • Removable 1400 mAh battery
  • Supported on both AT&T and T-Mobile (though subsidized only on T-Mobile), but 3G is only available for T-Mobile users; AT&T’s network will support EDGE only
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Android Event Scheduled For Jan. 5th; Nexus One Announcement?

It looks like the Jan. 5, 2010 date for a Nexus One launch has been confirmed. At the very least, the new device, the so-called "Google Phone" will be announced that day, as Google has announced an Android event for that day.

At the same time, T-Mobile, through an internal memo, has confirmed, unofficially, their role in the Nexus One cell phone saga. Based on the memo, T-Mobile will be the carrier of choice. It looks like Google is giving T-Mobile, who was the first carrier to have an Android phone, a first chance at the Google Phone as well.

The timing is interesting. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) begins on January 7th. Google's announcement threatens to take attention away from CES, much as Apple did in 2007 when they upstaged CES with the announcement of the first generation iPhone.

Will Google be able to pull off the same feat? The iPhone had been burning up the media "airwaves" for months. The HTC Nexus One or Google Phone has been doing so for about a month (or less), unless you count the original Google Phone rumors when Android was first announced. It's not clear that Google can upstage CES, but we'll see in about a week.
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GPS First Strands, Then Saves Couple

Here's yet another example of why you shouldn't just blindly follow the directions you are given by your GPS unit. An elderly couple, John Rhoads, 65, and Starry Bush-Rhoads, 67, were led astray by their GPS unit, and stranded in snow, but their GPS-enabled cell phones relayed their position to 911, which saved them.

The couple had followed their SUV's GPS unit as it led them from Portland, OR to Reno, NV. Tt directed them south on U.S. Highway 97 to Oregon Highway 31, which goes through Silver Lake and Lakeview before connecting with U.S. Highway 395 to Reno, Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said.

However, in the town of Silver Lake, their GPS told them to turn right on Forest Service Road 28 (one can already imagine since it's a Forest Service Road it might not have been a smart choice). They followed that and some spur roads for nearly 35 miles before getting stuck in about 1 1/2 feet of snow near Thompson Reservoir.

At that point, their cell phones couldn't get a signal. Fortunately, the couple had come well-equipped for winter travel, with food, water and warm clothes. It was a good thing, as they were stranded for three days before they managed to get a signal on one of their cell phones, for still-unexplained reasons.

Equipped with GPS, the cell phone was able to send their location to the sheriff, who was able to rescue them. While they might have been able to determine on the couple's approximate position based on the tower the cell phone signal was bouncing off of, it was far simpler this way.

Evinger said, "GPS almost did 'em in and GPS saved 'em. It will give you options to pick the shortest route. You certainly get the shortest route. But it may not be a safe route."


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

iSlate, iGuide, iTablet; How Many Apple Kindle-Killers Will Be Sold?

Artist's Conception, via AppleInsider
In the 2009 holiday season, the Kindle became Amazon.com's most gifted item ever, but next year, who knows how it will do? That's because the rumored Apple Kindle-killer tablet PC will be out, if all plays out as it seems, and an analyst believes Apple could sell as many as 1.6 million of the "Kindle Killers" in 2010.

On Monday, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said his own conversations with Taiwanese component suppliers last week bolster his belief that Apple will ship a tablet PC by March. Of course, this isn't a surprise as its the date many have believed for some time, with an unveiling event in January. His research note added that his estimates indicate that Apple will initially be capable of shipping 162,000 of these devices per month. That would amount an annual rate of nearly 2 million.

At the same time, while the domain name and trademark iSlate seemed to point to that perhaps being the name of the new tablet PC, as opposed to iTablet, reports now indicate the name might be iGuide, instead of iSlate. iSlate actually makes more sense as a name, but MacRumors said that the trademark description for iGuide makes sense as well.
Computer hardware and computer software for accessing, browsing, searching, recording, organizing, storing, transmitting, receiving, manipulating, streaming, reproducing, playing, and reviewing audio, video, games, music, television, movies, photographs, and other multimedia content [...]

Downloadable electronic publications in the nature of books, magazines, newsletters, journals, and blogs in the fields of entertainment, sports, science, history, culture, celebrities, news, current events, politics, technology, and education.
Personally, I still prefer iSlate, or even iTablet, but we will all find out in late January.


GSM Encryption Broken; Code Published To The Web

It is evident from the recent Predator drone hacking that the only way to protect over-the-air transmissions is some sort of encryption. Meanwhile, eighty percent of the world's phones are GSM-based, meaning, they use SIMs and operate on networks like the U.S.'s AT&T and T-Mobile, but on Monday a German security expert announced that he and a group of contributors had broken the primary encryption code protecting GSM phone calls.

Karsten Nohl made the statement to a group of hackers at the Chaos Communication Congress. The Congress is a four-day event held in Berlin. He said, "This shows that existing GSM security is inadequate. We are trying to push operators to adopt better security measures for mobile phone calls.”

Nohl also added that the "code book" for the algorithm is available online now, via services such as BitTorrent. While he didn't provide a link for the document, just saying it's available as a torrent will be enough for most.

The current GSM encryption scheme is known as the A5/1 standard, based on a 64-bit encryption scheme. The more bits, the harder to crack, and a newer specification based on 128-bit encryption called A5/3 has been available since 2007. However, few network operators upgraded to the new system.

In response, spokespeople for the GSM Association pooh-poohed the issue. They said that operators, by simply modifying the existing algorithm, could prevent any unintended surveillance, and that actually "listening in" would be a complex operation at any rate, including a radio receiver system and signal processing software to process raw radio data.

Others were not so quick to dismiss the dangers. Simon Bransfield-Garth, the CEO of Cellcrypt, a company based in London, said this information could put sophisticated mobile interception technology — limited to governments and intelligence agencies — within the reach of “any reasonable well-funded criminal organization.”

However, other security experts disagree, saying the crack now puts mobile interception of the majority of non-3G cellphone calls within reach of “any reasonable well-funded criminal organization. This will reduce the time to break a GSM call from weeks to hours. We expect as this further develops it will be reduced to minutes.” GSM phones encompass approximately 80 percent of the world's cell phones.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Psystar To Sell Linux PCs; Halts Sales of Mac OS Install Tool

Psystar, which has been battling, and losing to Apple in terms of selling clones PCs with Mac OS X preinstalled, has halted sales of its stand-alone utility which allows installation of Mac OS X on clones. This was the same software Psystar used. Additionally, the company stated that once it reorganizes, it will focus on Linux PCs.

The software, Rebel EFI, has had its sales "voluntarily suspended," according to a statement on Psystar's website. They still believe, despite their losses to this point, that they will prevail in court eventually, and are, for now, selling T-shirts and asking for donations. The company said in the statement that "those who purchase a t-shirt or donate over twenty dollars will receive one free copy of Rebel EFI once the court has ruled in our favor on this issue." Rebel EFI sells, or sold, for around $50.

The company added the following, in terms of upcoming Linux PC sales: "In the coming days, we will again be offering complete systems but at discounted prices as they will be bundled with your choice of Linux operating system. In addition to using only first quality components, our hardware specifically chosen such that it is known to be compatible with OS X (via Apples own drivers or open source offerings online). This makes it easier to get up and running with your favorite XNU based operating system, including Pure Darwin."

If in fact Psystar can ever get the court to say it can sell Rebel EFI again, the company plans to sell versions tailored to specific pre-sold PCs. For example, it says it already has "flavors" for Dell's discontinued Mini 9 netbook and Hewlett-Packard's Mini series of netbooks.
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"New York Is Not Ready For The iPhone" - AT&T Customer Service

According to some reports, AT&T has apparently stopped selling the iPhone in New York City. If you listen to certain customer service representatives, it's because "New York is not ready for the iPhone." It may not be all that cut and dried, however.

20% off iPad WarrantyThe story begins as The Consumerist, where a reader discovered that he was unable to buy an iPhone online from AT&T's website when he entered his zip code (11231, or Brooklyn). He's right; I tried it myself and upon entered that zip or any other New York City, zip, no iPhones show up as available (see image above, click to enlarge).

What's interesting is what The Consumerist was told when they contacted AT&T Customer Service:
Daphne: Welcome to AT&T online Sales support. How may I assist you with placing your order today?

Laura: Hi, I was looking at the iPhone 3Gs and the system tells me that I cannot order one in my ZIP code. My zip code is 11231. (Brooklyn, NY) Is this true? Are iPhones no longer available in New York City?

Daphne: I am happy to be helping you today . Yes, this is correct the phone is not offered to you because New York is not ready for the iPhone.

Daphne: You don't have enough towers to handle the phone.

Laura: Thank you for your help. So the phone is not available to people anywhere in the city?

Daphne: Yes, this is correct Laura.
Interestingly, BGR, when contacting AT&T, discovered that indeed the iPhone was not available, but only online. AT&T stores had plenty of stock. Meanwhile, according to BGR, Customer Service had no idea why the iPhone could not be ordered online, but only that it could not.

It seems more likely this is a site glitch and that Daphne is misinformed, or perhaps deranged. After all, Apple's website seems to have no problems selling to New York City. Meanwhile, Gearlog reports their AT&T rep says they've stopped selling to NYC because of "increased fraudulent activity in that area when ordering the iPhone."

Let's be honest, Daphne; it couldn't be because AT&T really thinks that NYC isn't ready for the iPhone, just because 30 percent dropped calls is the norm, could it?

Update: AT&T has resumed selling to New Yorkers via its website. It is still unclear what happened as AT&T stores, Apple stores, and the Apple website were all selling to or in New York while this "outage" was ongoing.

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Smaller Antivirus Firms, Microsoft's Free Offering, Outperform Top Firms

AV Comparatives, one of the well-respected independent testing houses of security software, has released not one, but two tests in December of 2009. Both of them showed pretty impressive results for smaller antivirus firms, as well as freeware solutions, including the new (and free) Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) product.

One test was designed to study real-world protections of computers, and the second test was designed to measure performance degradation of a system when running security software. In the protection test, which AV Comparatives called the Whole Product Dynamic Test, the results were as follows:

In terms of rankings, AV Comparatives uses a tested, Standard, Advanced, Advanced+ system. Those who catch less than 80 percent of malware are tested, while 80 - 90 ranks a product as Standard, 90 - 98 Advanced, and 98 - 100 as Advanced+.

Symantec and McAfee are considered the big guns in security, but many who aren't techies won't recognize the name of Kaspersky, which also reached an Advanced+ ranking along with Symantec. Meanwhile, MSE ranked Advanced, and its a free product. Obviously, Microsoft has made changes since its maligned and ineffective OneCare product.

However, what good is an antivirus product if it brings your system to a complete halt by grabbing all the CPU cycles it can? Thus, the Performance Test by AV Comparatives is useful, as it shows just how much impact a system will face at the hands of one of these products.

The test used a Windows XP SP3 system with 2GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. AV Compartives used a variety of tests, including file copying, archiving / unarchiving, launching applications, downloading files, encoding / transcoding, installing / uninstalling apps, and the Worldbench performance test suite. They also repeated certain tests to take advantage of the "fingerprinting" technique some AVs use to reduce performance hits on subsequent accesses of a file already checked.

All the products reached at least a standard level. Of course, based on the ranking of Kingsoft on detection, I'm not sure that I would want to use it, no matter what the Performance Test ranking.

It's great that AV Comparatives is continuing its Performance Tests. Of course, one has to balance detection and performance impact as well. I've been a fan of ESET's NOD32 product for a long time, but I've been testing MSE for a while.

I've grown tired of how hard it is to update NOD32. To update the product (not the virus dictionary), you really need a techie background. The reason is that the EKRN won't shut down, no matter what you do, even if you try to manually uninstall and reinstall the product. You have to go into Safe Mode to remove the final traces of the product, before installing a new version, or else use their removal tool (not the same as uninstalling the product). It's annoying; I prefer the product to remove or update itself gracefully.

At any rate, MSE stopped one of those "fake AV" tools from installing when I tested it on a "rogue" site. While I certainly wouldn't have installed the software anyway, it was nice to see it alert me to the problem. One negative: it took forever to remove the malware from my browser cache. Hey, it's free, and effective, right?
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

HP "Racist Computer" Critics Sound Off

After a YouTube video resulted in HP laptops being snarkily called "racist," the creators of the video have spoken out. Much like Fake Steve Jobs and Operation Chokehold, it's all in good fun, and not meant to cause a real controversy.

The two videographers spoke to Mashable, and it turns out they don't work in a consumer electronics store as was thought. Rather, Wanda Zamen and Desi Cryer work in the (poorly lit) sales department at Toppers Camping Center in Waller, TX.

In part, here's what they said. It should be noted that they tried several angles and lighting schemes before coming to the conclusion that, at least with Desi, the webcam tracking software was just not going to work.
We thought the video was funny and decided to post it on You Tube. It was our intention to provide a good natured chuckle to our fellow man, and honestly we did not imagine that so many people would watch and react to the video.

We do not really think that a machine can be racist, or that HP is purposely creating software that excludes people of color. We think it is just a glitch.
Indeed, it's just a bug. In response to the video, however, HP did note on its support site that lighting has a great deal to do with the performance of the software.
NOTE: It has been reported that lighting conditions can affect the performance of the face tracking feature. To improve performance of the face tracking feature try to increase the light to the face while decreasing the amount of light in the background. If the lighting conditions cannot be adjusted, select Disable zoom or Manual zoom instead.
So, in reality, HP computers are not racist. They just don't like poor lighting. Can we all move on, now? Watch the original video below, to get a laugh.

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iSlate To Be Apple's Tablet PC?

Artist's Conception, via AppleInsider
Apple's rumored tablet PC is coming in January, and will be called the iSlate, if all things rumored are true. Of course, in August an analyst claimed the tablet PC would be called (what else) iTablet and launch in November. So who really knows?

What is known is that Apple acquired the domain name iSlate.com. While the actual registrant for the domain name was hidden, as is often the case, MacRumors found Apple's name was temporarily exposed as the actual owner of "iSlate.com" for several weeks in late 2007. That seemingly seals the deal.

That, along with the fact that executive editor Bill Keller of "The New York Times" mentioned the Slate during an October 16th "all hands" meeting for the newspaper's digital staff. At slightly past 8 minutes in the video below, he says:
Sixth, we need to figure out the right journalistic product to deliver to mobile platforms and devices. I’m hoping we can get the newsroom more actively involved in the challenge of delivering our best journalism in the form of Times Reader, iPhone apps, WAP, or the impending Apple slate, or whatever comes after that.
Of course, nothing's a done deal until it's done. We'll see in January if we get the iTablet or the iSlate, or neither.

Watch the video:
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Amazon's Kindle Most Gifted Item Ever

Amazon.com has issued its holiday sales facts press release, and a couple of Kindle factoids stand out. For one, Amazon.com noted that the Kindle was the most "gifted" item eve this holiday season. Secondly, on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.

While the company did not list exact numbers for either of the factoids above, there's a likely reason that the reason Kindle books outsold physical books on Christmas Day. It's simple; all those gifted Kindles were being opened and immediately used to download books.

It's an interesting shift, and shows that e-book readers are finally gaining traction in the marketplace. The Barnes & Noble nook and the Sony e-book readers are also popular, but Amazon.com received a break when B&N couldn't ship enough nooks.

Other interesting Amazon.com sales facts for the holiday season:
  • Amazon customers purchased enough fruit cake to equal the weight of a 1967 Volkswagen Bug (I didn't know Amazon.com sold fruit cake; when will the fruit cake horror end?)
  • Amazon customers bought enough gingerbread house kits that if stacked on top of each other would be as tall as the Sears Tower.
  • If all the computers customers purchased this holiday were stacked one on top of the other, they would be more than twice as high as Mt. Everest.
  • Amazon customers bought over 50 times more Light Therapy devices this holiday season than there are sunny days in Seattle the entire year.
  • For the holiday time period alone, Amazon customers purchased enough shoot-and-share camcorders to supply 50 years' worth of non-stop YouTube watching.
  • Amazon customers bought enough Levi's jeans to clothe everyone at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
  • Amazon customers purchased so many Blu-ray disc players that if you lined them up side to side, they would stretch for more than 27 miles.
  • During the 2009 holiday season, Amazon customers bought enough 8 GB iPod touches to play 442 years of continuous music.
  • In 2009, Amazon customers purchased enough heart rate monitor watches to put one on the wrist of everyone who finished the New York City marathons in 2008 and 2009.
  • Amazon customers purchased enough Frustration-Free Package items to eliminate over 32,000 pounds of frustrating plastic materials, such as plastic clamshells.
  • The last One-Day Prime order that was delivered in time for Christmas, was placed on Dec. 23 at 9:17 p.m. Pacific and shipped to Boca Raton, Florida for delivery on Dec. 24. The item was a pair of Yellow Gold 8-8.5mm Freshwater Cultured Pearl Stud Earrings.
  • The last Local Express Delivery order that was delivered in time for Christmas, was placed by a Prime member and went to Seattle. It was a Kindle that was ordered at 1:43 p.m. on Christmas Eve and delivered at 4:57 p.m. that evening.
One has to wonder what people are doing with all that fruit cake.  In terms of the most popular items in specific categories, Amazon.com listed the following;
  • Electronics: Kindle Wireless Reading Device; Apple iPod touch 8 GB; and Garmin nuvi 260W 4.3-inch GPS
  • Toys: Scrabble Slam Cards; The Settlers of Catan; and Scene It? Twilight Deluxe Edition
  • Video Games and Hardware: Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board; New Super Mario Bros; and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Sports & Outdoors: Razor A Kick Scooter; Victorinox Swiss Army Champion Plus Pocket Knife; and P90X Extreme Home Fitness Workout Program
  • DVD: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince;" "Star Trek;" and "Up"
  • Books: "Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin; "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown; and "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett
  • Music: "I Dreamed A Dream" by Susan Boyle; "My Christmas" by Andrea Bocelli; and "Crazy Love" by Michael BublĂ©
  • Jewelry: Sterling Silver Marcasite & Garnet Glass Heart Pendant; 10k White Gold Diamond 3-Stone Heart Pendant; and 18k White Gold Round Diamond 4-Prong Stud Earrings
  • Watches: Casio Men's Waveceptor Atomic Dual-Time Watch; Invicta Men's II Collection Chronograph Stainless Steel Blue Dial Watch; and Timex Kids' Camouflage Stretch Band Watch
  • Beauty: Sephora Brand Color Play Palette II; Santa's Lump of Coal Christmas Soap; and Sephora Brand Ultimate Blockbuster
  • Home & Garden: Keurig My K-Cup Reusable Coffee Filter; Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator; and Oster Electric Wine-Bottle Opener
  • Clothing & Accessories: The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee; Levi's Men's 550 Relaxed Fit Jean; and Levi's Men's 501 Jean
  • Shoes and Handbags (Amazon.com and Endless.com): Steve Madden Women's Bonanza Tall Shafted Flat Boot; Hunter Original Tall Welly Boot; and EMU Australia Women's Hip Boot
  • Health & Personal Care: Omron HJ-112 Digital Pocket Pedometer; Philips Sonicare Essence 5300 Power Toothbrush; and Farouk CHI 1 Inch Ceramic Flat Hairstyling Iron
  • Gourmet Food: Bon Appetit Gift Basket; Grand Ghirardelli Chocolate Gift Basket; and 50's Decade Box Gift Basket
  • Home Improvement: Black & Decker MSW100 Ready Wrench; Bosch Laser Distance Measuring Device; and Joby Gorillatorch Adjustable and Flexible Tripod Flashlight
  • Automotive Parts & Accessories: Wagan 12V Heated Seat Cushion; 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System; and Autel MaxiScan MS300 CAN OBD-II Scan Tool
  • Baby: Baby Einstein Takealong Tunes; Vulli Sophie the Giraffe Teether; and Baby Einstein Bendy Ball
  • Software: Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007; Adobe Photoshop Elements 8; and Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Home & Student Edition
  • Grocery: Coffee People Donut Shop K-Cups for Keurig Brewers; Coffee People K-Cup Santa's Buzz; and Vita Coco 100% Pure Coconut Water
  • Wireless: Nokia 5800 XpressMusic Unlocked Phone; Plantronics 510 Bluetooth Headset; and BlackBerry Bold 9700 Phone (AT&T)
Unsurprising that Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed A Dream" was in the list of top sellers. It's also interesting that the Nintendo Wii is still among the top sellers, after all this time.
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Google Voice To Return To The iPhone

Google Voice-enabled applications have been excluded from the App Store since this summer, when all apps were summarily booted.  Additionally, Google's own official app was rejected (though Apple continues to deny this).  However, after all this time, there's a possibility that Google Voice might return to the iPhone, but not the App Store.

Google Voice is a service that gives you a separate number that people can call, rather than your actual landline or cell phone number (or, if you desire, you can link your current cell phone number to it, as a form of "voicemail portability"). It obviously has a number of uses, and not just to keep blind dates from being able to reach you if you don't like them at first glance.

It will take voicemails, and ring more than one phone, depending on who's calling. It can also send callers directly to your voicemail, based on your settings. It will also transcribe voicemails and send you an email or SMS (those using "voicemail portability" lose most of these features) with the transcription.

There's currently an app for jailbroken phones, called GV Mobile, that is free and available via Cydia to those with jailbroken phones. However, the new solution is coming as a web application, meaning no worries over th App Store. This is what people have been expecting Google to do since its Google Voice app was rejected. But it's not coming from Google.

Instead, it's coming from VoiceCentral, which had previously had one of the Google Voice applications that was kicked out of the App Store. Currently taking a limited number of beta applicants (here), the app will have some limitations, though it will be better than trying to use the Google Voice website on your mobile browser (although you can do that as well). Here are some of the features:
  • Native iPhone look and feel.
  • Sync your Google Voice data.
  • Automatic and immediate updates.
  • Offline access to Google Voice data.
  • Listen to Google Voice messages and read transcriptions.
  • Swipe to delete calls, voicemails, or SMS conversations.
  • Google Contacts import
  • Call using Google Voice or iPhone
One key drawback is the fact that as it is not an app, it can't access the local contacts on your iPhone. You will have to import your contacts to Black Swan, as VoiceCentral currently calls the new version.

At the same time, however, there's still a chance we might see a real Google Voice application. According to Sean Kovacs, says he is taking limited beta applications for a new 2.0 version of GV Mobile. He still thinks he can return to the App Store, saying, "So, initial plans are to put this on Rock/Cydia store @ $1.99 and eventually App Store."

Obviously, there's no reason it can't be on Cydia, but the App Store, as well? That would be great, as a native app would work better than the web app that VoiceCentral is looking at. Still, at this point, many users would take anything, and it doesn't seem like the FCC is going to push Apple into accepting the official Google Voice app anytime soon, if ever.
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Bluetooth Keyboard And The iPhone? There's An App For That


No matter what anyone says about the on-screen keyboard on the iPhone, it can't possibly beat a full-sized PC keyboard. If only you could connect them together, you wouldn't even need to tether your iPhone to your laptop. Wait no longer; there's an app for that.

Ah, sadly, the app is only available for jailbroken iPhones. Those with jailbroken iPhones, which basically "cracks" the device so you can install any number of useful applications that Apple deems not suitable for the App Store. Unfortunately, many of them are useful, but they delve into areas and provide functionality that Apple would prefer you not have access to (such as quick settings access with SBSettings, and the like).

In this case, the BTstack Keyboard driver is available for $5, not in the App Store, but in the Cydia store. Those who have jailbroken their iPhones know how to get to that store.

Not that I would ever deign to jailbreak my iPhone, since that would be, in Apple's opinion, breaking the law, but those who have tried a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPhone are pretty impressed. As with most 1.0 releases, it has some issues:

Known Issues:

  • If you are still using iPhone OS 2.x, the up/down cursor triggers the magnifying glass.
  • Keyboard will not work in the Springboard search field.

Unsupported:

  • Quick auto-connect for Apple keyboard
  • Selection with SHIFT key + cursor
  • Copy, cut and paste
  • Cursor key in MobileTerminal
  • Caps Lock key

Don't expect to write a novel without having your battery run out, however.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Apple Preps For January Event; Tablet PC Coming?

Artist's Conception, via AppleInsider
While the Apple tablet PC has been rumored for so long that it's nearly reached Duke Nukem Forever status, it seems this time it might be really nearly here. According to FT.com, Apple has reportedly booked the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco "for several days in late January." The YBCA was last used for Apple's new iPod event earlier this year.

Apple is expected to use the venue to make a major product announcement on Tuesday, January 26th, according to "sources familiar with the matter." In fact, this timing pretty much matches the already rumored timeline for the introduction of their new tablet.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster on Wednesday speculated on a possible tablet PC announcement.
“We believe there is a 75 per cent likelihood that Apple will have an event in January and a 50 per cent chance that it will be held to launch the Apple Tablet. If Apple announced the Tablet in January, it would likely ship later in the March quarter.”
Once again, that would still match up with the rumored timelines. The tablet PC is reportedly larger than an iPhone but smaller than a notebook. There have also been rumors that a January event would be to introduce a new iPhone with a higher resolution camera. However, that makes little sense as Apple has already stated that the iPhone launch events will be about the same time every year: in the middle of the year.
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Google's Nexus One Available Jan. 5th, But Invite-Only?

The Google phone, AKA the HTC Nexus One, is due out in the first week in January, or January 5th, 2010 to be exact, if this information is correct. Unfortunately, if this information is correct, it will also be available at retail only by invitation, whatever that means.

It is unclear how invitations will be handed out. The report states that is possible that Google might target certain developers, but in reality that doesn't make a lot of sense. Frequently developers, or at least, high-profile ones, get pre-release devices anyway.

At any rate, there's a full list of specs available now, as well. They are:
  • Android 2.1
  • 119 mm high x 59.8 mm wide x 11.5 mm thick (4.7" high x 2.35" wide x .45" thick)
  • 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM, 4GB microSD in-box expandable to 32GB
  • 5 megapixel camera with mechanical AF and LED flash, 2x digital zoom
  • HSPA 900 / 1700 / 2100, 7.2Mbps down and 2Mbps up (this means 3G for T-Mobile Yes, for AT&T No).
  • 3.7" WVGA AMOLED display
  • AGPS receiver
  • Wi-Fi (802.11n?)
To be honest, there's nothing spectacular in these specs, but hands-on performance testing seems to indicate the darn thing is pretty fast. Rumor has it the Nexus One has a Qualcomm QSD 8250 1 Ghz CPU.

Watch a video demo of the device and decide if you want one.

Here's a second one, ironically recorded on an iPhone.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tasmanian Police Use iPhones To Catch Traffic Violators


Tasmanian police are using custom software and hardware that enables them to take a picture of a license and upload the information to an online database. That information is then checked to determine if the car is unregistered or the owner is unlicensed or has a suspended license. What's more interesting, however, is that there's an app for that, too.

According to the report, the iPhone program has only been in service for about 1 and 1/2 weeks, and yet 167 unregistered vehicles have been found, as well as 107 unlicensed or suspended drivers. After smartly realizing they could duplicate the functionality with the iPhone's camera and 3G connectivity.

This means police walking a beat or motorcycle cops can use the same system. Of course, if you remember AT&T's recent commercials about its network when compared to Verizon, if we had a CDMA iPhone, a cop couldn't make a phone call and use the app at the same time. On the other hand, there's no background processing on the iPhone so you can't do a lot of stuff on it simultaneously, either!
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

iPhone Top U.S. Cell Phone, But LG Top Cell Phone Brand


New data from Nielsen shows that the iPhone is the top phone among U.S. cell phones, but in terms of market share, both RIM and LG top Apple, based on having several different handsets. In fact, the iPhone (i.e., Apple) has 4.0 percent, while RIM has 6.3 percent and LG 6.4 percent.

The data is for mobile phones in use from January to October 2009. The sheer quantity of handsets available for users leads to what is obviously very fragmented market share. The top 10 phones account for just over 20 percent of the total devices in use.

The Nielsen data also ranks the top sites visited by mobile devices. In that category, the top 3 sites are Google Search (no!), Yahoo! Mail, and Gmail.

What are the top brands visited by mobile devices? They are (surprisingly) Yahoo!, Google, and MSN / WindowsLive / Bing.

Also ranked were the top video "channels" visited by mobile devices. At the top of the list is YouTube (naturally), with Fox Interactive Media and the Weather Channel (really!) next. One might wonder what might happen if Hulu could roll out its iPhone app.
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Apple Gains Some Traction For Pay TV Via iTunes: Report

Apple's proposal for subscription TV via iTunes appears to be gaining some traction, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The idea, which we first wrote about in November, had been estimated to have a price to the consumer of $30 a month, but would require TV networks and studios to sign on.

While the WSJ reports that no companies have signed on yet, it also stated that both CBS and Disney are considering the proposal. CBS would offer programming from both CBS and the hipper CW network, and Disney is considering programming from its ABC, Disney Channel and ABC Family networks.

The report goes further and describes Apple's already rumored (though probable) tablet PC, which is rumored to be media-centric, larger than an iPhone but smaller than a laptop computer as something that is pushing an iTunes revamp. The report goes further and says the device is due in March.

It's not like Apple is first in this market. Netflix, Hulu, and others are already streaming TV shows, but this iTunes change would be more like pay cable via iTunes than anything else. The WSJ does indicate that even though it's Apple, this proposal will face a lot of opposition and an uphill battle. It needs critical mass, and a lot of the companies involved are leaning against this sort of deal.
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Kindle DRM Gets Hacked

Anything that can be hacked will be hacked, and virtually everything can be hacked. Thus, we see that latest escapade in the land of hacking. The Kindle's DRM (digital rights management, copy protection) has been compromised.

The hack lets users convert the Kindle's e-books into PDF files, allowing them to be read on any number of non-Amazon e-book readers as well as computers, naturally. The hacker, known only as Labba, posed a challenge on a hacker forum and with a little help broke the DRM.

One can expect Amazon.com will come up with a change to halt the hacking, but Labba said that he feels that when Amazon.com does release a "fix," he will be able to hack it again. Consider it jailbreaking the Kindle: new software, new hack, just as with the iPhone.
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HP Computers Labeled Racist Due to Software Glitch

Evidently HP computers are racist, if you follow the rationale of this snarkily produced video. It shows how HP's webcam software, which is supposed to track the movements of a person's face, doesn't work too well if you're African American.

Desi (African-American) and Wanda (Caucasian) appear to be workers in some sort of consumer electronics store.
We're using the face-tracking software. So, it's supposed to follow me as I move. I'm black. I think my blackness is interfering with the computer's ability to follow me. [...]

I'm going on record, and I'm sayin' it. Hewlett-Packard computers are racist. I said it. And the worst part is, I bought one for Christmas.
It's pretty clear that the software seems to think Desi is invisible. At least Desi and Wanda seem to have a good sense of humor about the issue.

Some might wonder if this is a stunt. Or at least, those who remember the "Racial Sensitivity" episode from "Better Off Ted's" first season might. "Better Off Ted" is a comedy that lampoons corporate life, and stars Jay Harrington as Ted Crisp, Portia de Rossi as the evilly corporated lackey (and Ted's boss) Veronica Palmer, and Andrea Anders as goofy (and crushing on Ted) Linda Zwordling.

In that episode, Veridian Dynamics, their company, "installs new motion-sensor devices for lights and other uses that are unable to recognize black people." Thus, employees are locked into rooms, elevators, etc.

In reality, this seems to not be a joke, but rather, just a bug, albeit a hilarious one. HP believes its software is having "difficulty 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting. At any rate, watch the video:
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New Study: Texting Raises Accident Risk Six-Fold

Things are improving. As opposed to an earlier study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), which stated that text messaging increases the risk of accident by 23 times, this one only says that accident risk is increased by 6 times. We should be happy at the improvement, right?

The study, released Monday in the journal "Human Factors," was done by researchers at the University of Utah, used driving simulators, as opposed to actual driving, as in the VTTI study. The study, titled "Text Messaging During Simulated Driving" (.PDF), studied 40 young adults ranging in age from 19 to 23 years with an average of 21 years of age. Among the participants, 20 were women and 20 were men. The participants either did a single task (driving) or dual tasks (texting and driving) as the simulator ran. The results were apparent, as shown below in the table.

While talking on a cell phone while driving is distracting enough, particularly when a hands-free setup is not used, researchers point out that texting is a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Researchers noted that while on a voice call while driving, drivers attempt to split their attention between the tasks. However, texting requires more attention, and thus drivers actually switch tasks rather than divide their attention, which is far more dangerous.

In terms of reaction time, it is quite a simple set of figures. Median reaction time increased by 30 percent when participants were texting, and 9 percent when they talked on the cell phone, compared with when they were just driving.

It is difficult to understand why, after multiple studies and tests, the industry continues to fight against bans on cell phones while driving. Or rather, cynically, perhaps it is not. A ban on cell phone use while driving would affect the bottom line of corporations. Additionally, it is well-known that text messaging is a cash cow for wireless carriers.

Many people believe they can text and drive without impairment. This is reminiscent of how many feel they can drink and drive without an issue, too. There simply isn't enough common sense to go around to beat the issue of money, or convenience.
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Sony, News Corp. Tie Up For Exclusive Digital Content

When people think of e-book readers, the first device that "usually" comes to mind is the Amazon Kindle. Of late, the next device that comes to mind is the Barnes & Noble nook. The third set of devices that come to mind are the Sony e-book readers, but Sony isn't content with standing still.

Sony and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. have announced a tie-up that will allow the Sony device to get not just exclusive rights to the New York Post's digital edition, but exclusive content from the Wall Street Journal not available elsewhere. Information from MarketWatch will also be available on the Sony readers.

The Wall Street Journal content will be packaged as a sort of "evening edition." It will be called the Wall Street Journal PLUS, and will consist of content that covers news after the morning edition.

Lack of periodical content has been cited as one reason that the Sony e-book readers trail in the e-book reader race. Besides these announcements, Sony has made major inroads into providing newspaper content via its nascent Reader Store (readerstore.sony.com).

Of course, it has to be said that the fact that B&N and Amazon.com have stores that customers associate with books and magazines certainly has been a big advantage for those other e-book readers.

The following newspapers are available now: Financial Times, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. You can purchase a single paper or a monthly subscription.  Meanwhile, Sony has a number of agreements in place, with the following subscriptions to newspapers and magazines available soon:
  • Barron's
  • The Boston Globe
  • The Dallas Morning News
  • International Herald Tribune
  • The New York Times
  • The Providence Journal
  • The Washington Times
  • The Baltimore Sun
  • The New York Observer
  • The Denver Post
  • The Salt Lake Tribune
  • San Jose Mercury News
  • Christian Science Monitor
  • The Columbus Dispatch
  • Reason
  • New York Review of Books
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