Sunday, February 28, 2010

All Current Android Phones Rumored To Receive 2.1 ROM Upgrade

Those who've watched their Windows Mobile phones languish without an update, ever, probably have watched enviously as smartphones using new platforms (Android, iPhone, webOS) receive frequent updates. Better than that, if a rumor is true, all Android phones, including the very ancient (by tech standards) T-Mobile G1 will receive an update to Android version 2.1.

That's the latest version of the OS, and the one running on the so-called Google phone (the HTC Nexus One). One might think it would be a stretch for the G1 to run that OS, based on its age (it was launched in Oct. 2008, an eternity in tech), but that's the rumor.

However, some of those phones that receive the upgrade will have to do a PC-based install (which is quite familiar to those running Windows Mobile or even iPhones, which don't receive OTA RMO updates). That's not really that big a deal, but some of them will be wiped in the process (also not that unfamiliar to WinMo users).

However, much of the data stored on your Android device is stored in the cloud anyway, with your Google account. The biggest issue here would be reinstalling applications. Still, many would probably go through the trouble, assuming the upgraded phone would run efficiently, which would be a question for the oldest among them, like the G1.
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E-Prescriptions Reduce Errors Nearly Seven-Fold: Study

Prescriptions written by doctors have always been the brunt of comics. They are, in general, hard to read, and difficult to translate. That, however, isn't the sole reason given by researchers for the seven-fold increase in errors by doctors eschewing electronic systems for prescriptions.

The study, conducted by Weill Cornell Medical College compared electronic submission of prescriptions with handwritten ones. The authors compared the prescription errors between 15 health care providers who adopted e-prescribtions and 15 who continued to write prescriptions by hand at 12 community practices in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

The researchers gave time for those adjusting to e-prescriptions to get used to the system. They examined errors at the start and one year later. After one year, the percentage of errors using the electronic system dropped from 42.5 to 6.6 percent. For those writing prescriptions by hand, the percentage of errors was static, and in fact increased somewhat, from 37.3 to 38.4 percent.

The higher perecentage of errors at the start of the e-prescription portion of the study may be explained by unfamiliarity with the electronic system. In fact, the study noted that without extensive technical support, "it is difficult for physician practices to achieve high rates of use of electronic prescribing and subsequent improvements in medication safety."

Those performing e-prescribing were using a commercial, stand-alone system that checks for drug-allergy interactions, drug-drug interactions, duplicate drugs, and provides dosing recommendations. Those practices that adopted e-prescribing received technical support from MedAllies, a health information technology service provider.

Dr. Rainu Kaushal, the study's lead author and associate professor of pediatrics, medicine and public health, and chief of the Division of Quality and Medical Informatics at Weill Cornell Medical College said:
"Examples of the types of errors we found included incomplete directions and prescribing a medication but omitting the quantity. A small number of errors were more serious, such as prescribing incorrect dosages."
Illegibility errors were, naturally, completed eliminated by e-prescribing. senior author Erika Abramson, assistant professor of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College added:
"Although most of the errors we found would not cause serious harm to patients, they could result in callbacks from pharmacies and loss of time for doctors, patients, and pharmacists. On the plus side, we found that by writing prescriptions electronically, doctors can dramatically reduce these errors and therefore these inefficiencies."
The full study appears in the online edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.


Palm webOS 1.4 Hits Sprint, Other Carriers, But Not Verizon

Despite that "sinking feeling" that many stockholders and employees are getting, in terms of the long-term viability of Palm, given the latest reports from the beleaguered company, it hasn't given up. It has just released version 1.4 of its webOS platform, which adds significant improvements to the platform.

According to Sprint, Version 1.4 adds / fixes the following:

Fixes:
  • Time Zone bug fixed
  • Network time sync bug fixed to reflect accurate Network time
  • Bluetooth car-kit transition to device corrected
  • No EV icon bug fixed (random)
  • Random browser formatting bugs fixed
  • Fixed bug that incorrectly displayed Sprint when actually was Digital Roaming
  • Missing Contact issue specifically with swap down to 1.2.9.1 or less
Feature Updates:
  • Phonebook Transfer (import & export)
  • Adds Video Capture capability & edit
  • Calendar Enhancements
  • Messaging Enhancements
  • Improved Performance (Phone & CAL)
  • Email Enhancements
  • Notification Enhancements
Perhaps the biggest change of note is that the update adds the necessary foundation for Adobe Flash support. That, however, will come as a separate download from the Palm App Catalog.

One other thing, Palm's post on this update does not mention Verizon as a carrier receiving an update. It does say that "other carries will be coming soon," however.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Google Launches Chilean Earthquake People Finder


Soon after the huge Chilean earthquake which spawned tsunami warnings across the Pacific, while also devastating the country, Google activated an online Chile "person finder" tool.

Similar to one Google activated in January after the Haiti earthquake, the tool will help friends and relatives to (hopefully) find loved ones missing after the temblor, which registered magnitude 8.8 on the Richter scale. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake struck 56 miles northeast of the city of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles at 3:34 AM (1:34 AM EST).

The tool is currently tracking 3,400 records at the time of this writing. In comparison, the Haiti tool, which has been tracking people since January 12th, is tracking 58,700 records.

To use either tool, those who either have information about a person involved in the earthquake, or are searching for someone involved, can simply go to the site and "I'm looking for someone" or "I have information about someone." Much as with YouTube videos, Google allows the tool to be embedded in sites (as above; that is not an image but is live, and below).


In addition to the help being provided by Google and obviously, by organizations such as the Red Cross, social media is making an impact as well. For example, Twitter is being used at hashtags #Chile and #tsunami to distribute info about the disaster, as well as info from areas affected, or even evacuated, in relation to tsunamis.

Saturday's 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile has killed at least 122 people, and tsunami alerts have been posted across the Pacific. The largest earthquake ever recorded was also in Chile, and is known as the Great Chilean Earthquake. It occurred in 1960, and was a 9.5 magnitude quake.
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Twitter Proves Itself Again, in Chilean Earthquake

Twitter has been a valuable tool in disaster and emergency situations in the past. A good example were the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. In the wake of the massive Chilean earthquake on Saturday, it is proving itself again.

As has been shown in recent disasters, Twitter is an important resource for news coming straight out of the disaster area. As well, other events are being posted to various feeds. Twitter is tracking the Tsunami warnings with the hashtag #Tsunami. Some of the latest posts, at the time of this writing, include information that the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has announced that President Barack Obama is on the way to the White House situation room.

In addition to the #tsunami hashtag, much information is being posted using the #Chile hashtag, as well.

An example of an important tweet for those in tsunami zones, a tweet just came in saying in light of the Hawaii tsunami warning, the Hawaii tsunami evacuation maps site has been flooded with traffic.
RT @cfnoble Hey if you're not *in* Hawaii, please don't look at the evac maps. You're jamming the servers, people! #tsunami pls RT
It's not to say, however, that all the tweets are good info. Some are spamming the feed, as well.

Other online references include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which is issuing regular updates. Updates include estimated arrival times for waves in numerous countries around the Pacific Rim. Click the pink box to see the latest update. It won't self refresh, however.

The latest update says the following are under tsunami warning:
A TSUNAMI WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR

CHILE / PERU / ECUADOR / COLOMBIA / ANTARCTICA / PANAMA / COSTA RICA / NICARAGUA / PITCAIRN / HONDURAS / EL SALVADOR / GUATEMALA / FR. POLYNESIA / MEXICO / COOK ISLANDS / KIRIBATI / KERMADEC IS / NIUE / NEW ZEALAND / TONGA / AMERICAN SAMOA / SAMOA / JARVIS IS. / WALLIS-FUTUNA / TOKELAU / FIJI / AUSTRALIA / HAWAII / PALMYRA IS. / TUVALU / VANUATU / HOWLAND-BAKER / NEW CALEDONIA / JOHNSTON IS. / SOLOMON IS. / NAURU / MARSHALL IS. / MIDWAY IS. / KOSRAE / PAPUA NEW GUINEA / POHNPEI / WAKE IS. / CHUUK / RUSSIA / MARCUS IS. / INDONESIA / N. MARIANAS / GUAM / YAP / BELAU / JAPAN / PHILIPPINES / CHINESE TAIPEI
The different levels of alert run Warning, Watch, Advisory.

The epicenter of the 8.8 earthquake in Chile was, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, (USGS), 56 miles northeast of the city of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles at 3:34 AM (1:34 AM ET). The quake was so huge that nations around the Pacific have issued tsunami alerts or advisories. For example, as noted above, there is a Hawaii tsunami alert, and California has issued a tsunami advisory (the lowest level of alert). Asian, Australian and New Zealand shores will see waves within 24 hours of the earthquake, experts said.

Compared to the January 12th Haiti quake, the Chilean earthquake was 8.8 vs. 7.0. The Richter scale is base-10 logarithmic, though, so an earthquake that measures, for example, 5.0 on the scale has a shaking amplitude 10 times larger than one that measures 4.0. In terms of energy produced by the quake, Jessica Sigala, a geophysicist with the USGS told NBC that the quake released 500 times more energy than the than the one that hit Haiti.

The largest recorded earthquake of all time was the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960 (shown above). The magnitude of that quake was 9.5.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, referring to the Hawaii tsunami warning, said the state could face its largest waves since 1964. They could start as early as 11:19 AM (4:19 PM EST). The bulletin said, "Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property. All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face."
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AT&T Expands MicroCell Trial To Five Regions

AT&T has finally expanded its MicroCell service trial beyond Charlotte, NC. Unfortunately, they chose not to expand the trial to San Francisco or New York City, two ares of the country well-known to be sagging under the weight of the iPhone.

The trial has been expanded to "select counties" in the following states and metropolitan areas:
  • Georgia
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • San Diego
  • Las Vegas
To determine if you are actually eligible for the program, you have to enter your zip code, as well. In the Charlotte test, the MicroCell was running $150 with no monthly fees. It covers a 5,000 square foot area and can handle up to four users simultaneously.

AT&T's MicroCell is actually a femtocell. Femtocells can be thought of as cellular base stations, that connect to the service provider’s network via broadband (such as DSL or cable).

While it is true that there are some areas of the country that simply will never be covered effectively, it's a little disconcerting for users who live in areas that should have decent coverage (such as, in the future, New York City and San Francisco) to have to pay to supplement AT&T's overloaded network.
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Shamu's Twitter Feed Shut Down After Trainer's Death

As hard as it might be to believe, the killer whales at SeaWorld have a Twitter feed. However, following the death of SeaWorld veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, Shamu's Twitter feed has been shut down.

Despite the fact that each orca (killer whale) has its own name, "Shamu," "Namu," and "Ramu" are trademarked stage names given to all of the orcas residing within the SeaWorld parks. In the wake of the tragedy on Wednesday, however, the following Twitter post was made:
At this difficult time, @Shamu will not be active. For Twitter updates follow @SeaWorld_Parks. http://bit.ly/b0oU3l
The URL-shortened link in the post leads to a longer statement, which says, in part:
[...] At this difficult time, @Shamu will not be active on Twitter, as users who follow @Shamu have come to expect posts that are light-hearted and perhaps a bit quirky. SeaWorld’s other accounts, including @SeaWorld_Parks, will remain active and regular updates will be communicated through Twitter and other social networking platforms.

We will continue to provide information in this space on our review of this incident and the changes to our procedures that may progress from it. We thank you for the thousands of messages of support during this extraordinarily difficult time.
Despite what that statement says, if you read through the comments on that post, you see plenty of people "being unsupportive."

Prior to the incident, in which Dawn Brancheau, 40, was pulled by her ponytail underwater and drowned by Tillikum, a 30-year-old orca, Shamu had over 10,000 followers. Her (Shamu is really short for She-Namu) bio:
I live at SeaWorld. I'm a large, athletic, black and white marine mammal. I'm not THE star of SeaWorld, I'm A star of SeaWorld
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Hackers Deliver Malware To Searchers Of SeaWorld Death Video

Hackers are taking advantage of the somewhat maladjusted interests of people by injecting malware into web pages. Some of the results of searches for terms such as "sea world trainer killed home video" and "killer whale kills trainer footage," which are top search trends on Google, lead to dangerous sites, according to a report by security firm Sophos.

Those searching are looking for videos of the killer whale Tillikum, who killed veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando's Shamu Stadium on Wednesday. They are searching for actual footage of the killing, as morbid as it might seem.

However, those searching for terms like "sea world trainer killed home video" are often being delivered harmful results. Fortunately, much of the time, hitting one of the those links will lead you to a warning page (as shown above). If the infected site is very new however, it's still possible you will be able to reach the malware-laden site.

The hackers are using the tried-and-true rogue antivirus method. You may have seen this previously; you surf to a site, a Window pops up saying your computer either "is" or "may be" infected. If you accept their offer, you will install software on your system that is essentially malware itself. Here's what Sophos said:
The heartless hackers are taking advantage of the hot news story by popping up fake anti-virus (also known as scareware or rogue anti-virus) alerts. The alerts are designed to frighten unsuspecting users into believing there is a security problem with their computer, which could lead them into downloading dangerous software or handing over their credit card details.

The tactic being used by cybercriminals is the same as the one we saw after the death of Natasha Richardson and Patrick Swayze, and when they exploited interest amongst the public in the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack last year.

You could argue that anyone hunting for footage of this horrific accident deserves everything that's coming to them, but the real sick ones here are the hackers who are trying to profit from the death of an innocent woman in a tragic accident.
These sites are not all that uncommon. The common sense rule is if you get a pop-up that says "your PC might be infected" and asks to run a scan ... don't do it! Close the tab, or use the back arrow to back out of the site. You should be OK as long as you do not accept the offer to scan your system.

Although Jim Atchinson, president of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment confirmed that SeaWorld had actual video of the attack, the only video released close to that event is the below, a home video taken just before the attack.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Skype Drops Windows Mobile Device Clients

For many consumers and even handset manufacturers, Windows Mobile has become an afterthought. Has it become the same for developers, as well? Skype, at least, seems to think so.

Of course, Skype didn't really put it that way, but the implication in there. As of now, users can no longer download Skype Lite or Skype clients for Windows Mobile phones. Skype has put up an FAQ addressing the issue. They say:
We’ve chosen to withdraw Skype Lite and Skype for Windows phones because we want to offer our new customers an improved mobile experience – much like the version that has proved so popular on the iPhone, and which is now available on Symbian phones. Our focus is on providing a rich user experience that allows you to enjoy free Skype-to-Skype and low cost calls as easily on the move as you do at your desktop.

We felt that Skype Lite and Skype for Windows phones were not offering the best possible Skype experience.
Skype said that Skype Lite will continue to work through 2010. They did not elaborate on future plans.

Although it's true that newer smartphone platforms such as the iPhone and Android offer superior experiences, its interesting that Skype is also talking about Symbian, an older platform, offering a superior experience to WinMo, particularly when they still don't have an Android release.

Frankly, while Windows Mobile wasn't the same level of experience as the other OSes, it did work. Perhaps the driver here is the drop in Windows Mobile market share, which seems to be on a decidedly consistent downward trend.

On the other hand, perhaps it's more about the proliferation of differences between handsets and earphone support, at least on WM devices. Answering a comment by a user named Mat on this thread, Peter Parkes of Skype said:
Hey there – Mat’s comment above pretty much nails it. It’s been very difficult for us to make the experience consistent across a wide range of Windows devices.

However, we have a partnership in place with China Unicom to deliver a new beta version to their WM handsets – where we can work with mobile operators, we’ll be able to deliver a Skype experience on the current WM platform which lives up to expectations.

Please give me a shout if you have any further questions – I’ll be more than happy to answer them.
That said, it seems if Skype can work something out with carriers / OEMs, WM may not be dead. It's unclear if Skype will return to Windows phones en masse when WM7 ... oops, Windows Phone 7 Series ... is released.
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Windows Powers The Olympics. Windows XP, However

Microsoft must be happy. Or at least, they are somewhat happy. All the PCs, Acer notebooks and desktops, that are being used by Olympic organizers are running Windows. Unfortunately, its not Windows 7 or even Windows Vista. It's Windows XP.

It has been difficult for Microsoft to get corporations and organizations to pry Windows XP off their computers. Despite the fact that Windows 7 is advertised as being much more friendly and less intensive (in terms of necessary computer power for an optimal experience), it appears that Olympics organizers did not get the message.

Todd Olson, a spokesperson for Acer's tech work in Vancouver, gave the following statement:
"It was the operating system requested by VANOC (the Olympic organizing committee) and Atos Origin (the technology integrator managing the Olympics tech operations)."
Of course, some of this has to be due to the newness of Windows 7. While Windows 7 has been out for months, for a slow-moving, large, and cautious organization, that's like a millisecond.

At any rate, it's still Microsoft on those PCs, not MacOS, so the company should be happy about that. Meanwhile, Acer is certainly happy: the company, which has made major inroads in consumer awareness globally, is still relatively unknown in the U.S. It has released some limited-edition laptops and monitors with the Olympic logo. It has also set up an "Acer Showcase" at one of the main gathering areas in central Vancouver, B.C.
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Turned-Off Cell Phone Means Speed Skater Misses On Olympics Chance

In this gadget-crazy, always-on, always-connected society, how often are you truly unavailable via cell phone? Perhaps in church, at a movie, or during surgery? How would you feel if you were an Olympic speed skater, and missed your chance to compete in the finals of your event, simply because your cell phone was off.

German speedskater Patrick Beckert, 19, was the fourth alternate in the 10,000 meter race. As none of the other alternates were available, officials tried to contact Beckert on Wednesday, but failed because his cell phone was turned off. The chance of a lifetime came because Italy’s Enrico Fabris bowed out due to injury. Fabris is a past two-time gold medalist.

The eventual winner of the event was Seung-Hoon Lee, of South Korea. Granted, Beckert probably had little chance to win, being an alternate, but just a chance to compete in the Olympics is something many would love to have. At least Beckert managed to compete in the 5000 meter event (shown above; he's in front).

Of course, there are those who still eschew cell phones. And, it could have been worse. He could have had an iPhone and simply not been able to receive the call.
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sorry, No Explicit Section In The App Store ... Yet

Maybe they were just mulling it over, but Apple has removed any reference to an "Explicit" option for submission to the App Store. It had been reported on Wednesday, and some hoped it would be a "solution" for the purge of "racy apps" in the App Store.

In case you didn't notice, Apple has been removing "racy apps" from the app store, even going so far as to remove a "swimsuit store" app (though they restored it later) as even bikinis are banned. That is, unless you happen to be someone Apple considers " a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format" as Apple's Phil Schiller stated earlier. In other words, that's why the Sports Illustrated and Playboy apps are still in the store.

At any rate, it appears it was just a case of someone jumping the gun. A developer confirmed that Apple told him that they (Apple) are thinking about it (an Explicit section), but "it's not going to happen anytime soon."
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Italy Court Convicts Google Execs Over 2006 Hate Video

On Wednesday, a Milan court found three Google executives guilty of violating Italy's privacy code, in a case related to video posted in late 2006 on Google Video (not YouTube). The uploaded video showed the bullying of a boy with Down's Syndrome. The executives have been given suspended six month sentences.

Four executives had been placed on trial. They were: David Drummond, Arvind Desikan, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes (who left the company in 2008). Drummond, Fleischer, and Reyes were the ones convicted.

Google has always said that not only did it pull down the video as soon as it was informed, it cooperated with Italian authorities to help identify the miscreants. The person directly responsible for uploading the video was sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin, as were other classmates who were also involved. Four students were expelled from their Turin school, as well.

However, while the Google executives were not directly responsible in any way for the video, prosecutors brought the case anyway. They accused the company of negligence because the video remained online for two months, although some comments had already been posted asking for it to be taken down.

It is, of course, true that Google doesn't monitor comments unless alerted, and there was a system for that at the time, as there is with YouTube. Google and other sites in this sort of situation, such as Craigslist, have long said they cannot monitor everything posted, and also that as with most sites that do not create their own content, but rather accept user content, cannot be held responsibile for that content.

In fact, most of these types of sites have Terms of Service agreements that actually spell that out (in fine print).

Google responded quickly to the convictions in a blog post. They said:
[...] we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.
Richard Thomas, the UK's former information commissioner agreed, telling the BBC:
"It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post. I can't imagine anything similar happening in this country (U.K.). The case wasn't brought by the Italian equivalent of the information commissioner but by criminal prosecutors and we don't know their motives.

"I find it worrying that the chief privacy officer who had nothing to do with the video has been found guilty. It is unrealistic to expect firms to monitor everything that goes online."
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Original "Rickroll" Video Banned From YouTube

The original "rickroll" video has been removed from YouTube, after managing over 30 million hits. The reason was the typical "Terms of Use violation" meaning copyright infringement, but one has to ask: it was up so long; why do so now?

For those unfamiliar with the term "rickroll," it is a term used when one intentionally redirects users to a video of "Never Gonna Give You Up" from 80's pop "superstar" Rick Astley, but it's also used for a variety of Astley-ish stunts. The video removed by YouTube was the original YouTube post.

Not to say, of course, that you can't find "Never Gonna Give You Up" anywhere else, but it was the original.

As I noted above, rickrolling went way beyond the Internet. Earlier, a hacker wrote malware that affected jailbroken iPhones, and rickrolled them.
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App Store "Racy Apps" Ban Hits Swimsuit Store App

Remember that Apple said that their "racy apps" ban included bikinis? They weren't kidding, as reportedly Simply Beach, based in the U.K., has seen its iPhone app removed from the App Store, as of last Friday.

It's an unfortunate truism that a store selling swimsuits would probably have bikinis. As Gerrard Dennis, managing director of The Simply Group, which operates Simply Beach and six other online stores said, "The e-mail [from Apple] arrived straight to a junk mail folder on Friday and to be honest we thought it was a spam joke. We then checked iTunes to find the app had in fact been removed. It seems like political correctness gone mad. It’s just women in bikinis, swimsuits and kaftans."

It's true that Apple is playing favorites here. Apps such as the Playboy app and the Sports Illustrated app are still in the store, despite the fact they are far more titillating than a swimsuit store's app.

The developer of the Simply Beach application, Exploding Phone, has resubmitted the app to the App Store, this time with an age restriction, hoping the app will be restored. Andrew Long, managing director of Exploding Phone said, "Being optimistic, maybe a new set of eyes at Apple will realize that the app is a store selling beach clothes and approve it. But we'll have to wait and see."

Update: Apple has quietly restored the app.
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AT&T Wins 3G Performance Test

In what would be surprise to many who experience dropped calls and poor performance, AT&T has won the second PC World 3G wireless performance test. This shows some major improvements, at least in the 13-city test sampling done by PC World, as last year, AT&T registered the lowest average download speeds among competitors.

The 13 cities involved in the PC World report were Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area have previously been reported to be areas of poor satisfaction among iPhone owners.

The devices used in the test were iPhone (AT&T), HTC Hero (Sprint), Droid (Verizon) and surprisingly, the T-Mobile G1. That device is very old, and possibly should have been supplanted in this test by the HTC Nexus One, a state-of-the-art Android phone. The test also used laptops as well, however.

Additionally, the test measured reliability. The worst city for AT&T was San Francisco, with only 55 percent reliability. That was a poor city for Verizon as well, with 68% reliability (second worst; Boston was worst at 67 percent), and T-Mobile with 87% (second worst; New Orleans was worse at 68 percent). Sprint was actually good with 90 percent reliability in SF.

On the other hand, New York City showed a 95 percent reliability for AT&T despite all the iPhone complaints. On the other hand, these tests were strictly about data. It would be interesting to see how the iPhone fared in that part of its name after the "i" --- the phone part; many users complain about dropped calls.

It's also true that while AT&T advertises its 3G network as being the "fastest," its Verizon's that covers the most of the U.S.
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Android, iPhone Big Winners In 2009: Gartner

Market research firm Gartner released its worldwide mobile phone sales report for 2009 on Tuesday. Android and iPhone were the big winners among smartphones, although RIM also saw an uptick. Meanwhile, Microsoft was the big loser, although Nokia's Symbian platform also saw a loss.

The iPhone OS nearly doubled its market share among smartphone platforms, going from 8.2 percent in 2008 to 14.4 percent in 2009. Android is now making a big move, with many more different devices and form factors introduced. Android nearly improved its market share eightfold, going from 0.5 percent in 2008 to 3.9 percent in 2009.

RIM also saw its BlackBerry OS continue to increase market share, with a bump from 16.6 to 19.9 percent. Palm finally saw its webOS platform broken out as a separate entity (from other), with a still meager 0.7 percent market share.

Meanwhile, Windows Mobile continues to drop, from 11.8 percent to 8.7 percent. In percentage terms, WM lost about 25 percent of its market share, and that will probably continue until Windows Phone arrives later this year.

Nokia's Symbian platform still dominates, but continues its downward slide from 52.4 percent to 46.9 percent.

Gartner was cautionary on Android, with Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner saying that some are concerned about Google's intentions in the market:
“Android's success experienced in the fourth quarter of 2009 should continue into 2010 as more manufacturers launch Android products, but some CSPs and manufacturers have expressed growing concern about Google's intentions in the mobile market. If such concerns cause manufacturers to change their product strategies or CSPs to change which devices they stock, this might hinder Android's growth in 2010.”
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Schiller Confirms Favoritism In App Store "Racy App" Purge

As you probably know, Apple is purging apps that are somewhat racy from the App Store, including those, according to a developer, that include women in bikinis. Yet the Sports Illustrated app is still in the App Store, and as I said earlier, I smelled favoritism.

Phil Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple, pretty much confirmed that in statements he made to the New York Times. He said:
“The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format."
Ah, I see. By the way, the Playboy app is still in the App Store as well.

While there is obviously some measure of truth to that statement, some of the apps, such as Wobble (demo below), which have a sort of racy component to them, but don't even specifically provide racy photos in them. Strangely, also, new apps continue to be approved that should be banned, such as Adult Sex Trick, which appears to have been updated just today or yesterday.

At the same time, as far as why they made this change, Schiller said:
“It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see.”
OK, so they are not so upset with Playboy or SI, I suppose.

At any rate, it's not as though iTunes itself doesn't have plenty of racy material among its videos or even its music. Mobile Safari is able to access plenty of stuff on the web, as well, though famously, not Flash.

Watch a Wobble demo below, of the now rejected app:

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Thieves Use Jammers To Overcome GPS Tracking

Truck fleet owners are able to track the location of their shipments via GPS, and police are able to use the GPS units on some vehicles to track them if stolen, as well. However, in the ever-increasing tech war between criminals and authorities, thieves have turned to GPS jammers to get around those safeguards.

"GPS Jamming and Interference - A Clear and Present Danger" is the theme of a one-day conference sponsored by the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Location and Timing Program of Digital Systems KTN, which is a U.K. network funded by Britain's Technology Strategy Board. The conference will be held at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington (London) on Tuesday, February 23.

Thieves are using GPS jammers imported from China, which put out signals at the same frequency as GPS satellites, thieves are stealing expensive cars and trucks carrying valuable loads. Additionally, there are fears that terrorists could use more powerful versions to disrupt air traffic.

It's not necessary for the jammers to produce a strong signal, either. Bob Cockshott, who heads the location and timing program for the Technology Strategy Board (and who will be one of the speakers) said "The problem is that the signal from the satellites is extremely weak. It's the equivalent of picking up the light output of a 25-watt bulb on the satellite. That means you only need a jammer with an output of about 2 watts to swamp any signal from the GPS satellites over an area of a few meters."

It's the possibility of terrorists using a system to disrupt GPS near an airport that is drawing the most concern, right now. Charles Curry, the managing director of Chronos Technology, said that a GPS jammer with an output of 20W could be used.

"If you lost GPS capability on planes or other things that rely on accurate timing, such as the emergency networks or power stations, then if they don't build in the ability to mitigate against such attacks there could be very serious consequences." Curry is also head of a consortium which is building a GPS-jamming detection system. The system is currently in its prototype stages and would be used at airports, ports, and other locations which rely on GPS.
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Dynamic Textbooks To Allow Customizing Of E-Textbooks

Does your textbook have an error in it? If Macmillan has its way, and you have an electronic version, you may see that textbook patched.

Macmillan is one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks. Its new software, DynamicBooks, will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them.

On the other hand, many publishers have offered customized "print" textbooks for years, which allow instructors to reorder chapters or insert third-party content, or even their own writing. With DynamicBooks, instructors will have the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher.

A digital textbook will actually be a package. It will include online access; a downloadable version; and an iPhone application. Students can annotate or highlight and search terms or their notes in their DynamicBook and can print from within the application. Printed, bound versions will also be available in black and white or color.

Brian Napack, president of Macmillan said, “Basically they will go online, log on to the authoring tool, have the content right there and make whatever changes they want. And we don’t even look at it.” Macmillan plans to start selling 100 titles through DynamicBooks in August.

That could be good, or it could be bad. As Neil F. Comins, writer of “Discovering the Universe,” a popular astronomy textbook, said, "I’ve learned as an author over the years that I am not perfect, so if somebody in Iowa sees something in my book that they perceive is wrong, I am absolutely willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.” However, if an instructor decided to rewrite paragraphs about the origins of the universe to give a religious rather than an evolutionary perspective, “I would absolutely, positively be livid.”

A concrete example of one such possibility exists in recent news. A recent story broke in which a Fresno City College instructor, Bradley Lopez, was accused of coloring his coursework with his religious beliefs. In fact, on the first day of class, he made a point of contradicting the textbook, which listed cancer as the leading cause of death. Lopez told the class that abortions killed more people than cancer.

Additionally, Lopez allegedly gave students a genetics assignment that involved studying the Bible to research Jesus Christ's biological makeup, and told students that "evolution is a dead theory." Finally, heinvited them to visit his office "if you want to know about your Creator."

You can see what might happen if someone like Lopez got his hands on DynamicBooks.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

IDG's Jayson Blair Moment As Writer Exposed As CTO Of Performance Tracking Firm

Devil Mountain Software has been featured in IDG articles before, as a firm that offers performance testing based on its Exo Performance Network (XPNet). Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that one of IDG's writers, Randall Kennedy, is actually the CTO of Devil Mountain Software, although he made up an alter-ego to cover his tracks.

This whole story is somewhat reminiscent of the scandal that embroiled the New York Times, with Jayson Blair, who actually made up stories, you might recall. How long did Kennedy think he could get away with it?

IDG has announced it has severed ties with Kennedy, as of Sunday. His day job may not be going so well either, as ZDNet posted an expose of Kennedy as well. It seems that not just Kennedy's ID, but the veracity of DMS' performance testing are at issue.

ZDNet posted a full page on how they themselves uncovered the relationship between Kennedy and Barth, and from there, went into an analysis on how the software from DMS works. DMS' two flagship products are a test suite called Office Bench and a Windows monitoring tool called the DMS Clarity Suite. In addition, InfoWorld had been offering the software for download under the Windows Sentinel label. Emphasis on had, mind you, as after the revelations about Kennedy, they pulled the software, wisely.

ZDNet's investigation discovered some potential privacy issues that could allow it to examine customer systems, and even link them to particular users. It also noted that one high-profile "client" cited by "Barth" said it has not actually installed the software.

One recent report, noted by IDG's Computerworld in an article, asserted that 86 percent of machines using Windows 7 were regularly using up to 95 percent of their available RAM. That caused a firestorm across the Internet. It should be noted that the author of the story, Gregg Keizer, said Sunday that he had spoken with Barth "15 to 20 times since December 2007," but did not know until last week that Barth and Kennedy were the same person.

The article in question, and others quoting DMS, now have the following header:
The person quoted in this story as "Craig Barth" is actually Randall C. Kennedy, an InfoWorld contributor. Kennedy, who presented himself as the CTO of Devil Mountain Software, no longer works at InfoWorld. Given that he disguised his identity to Computerworld and a number of other publications, the credibility of Kennedy's statements is called into question. Rather than simply remove stories in which he is quoted, we have left them online so readers can weigh his data and conclusions for themselves.
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Can Bloom Energy's Bloom Box Deliver On Its Promise?

What is the Bloom Box? It sounds like something involving flowers, but instead it is Bloom Energy's fuel cell miracle, if its promise can be both believed and delivered upon. The Bloom Box was finally unveiled, on broadcast television, no less, on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night (watch the full report below).

There is much skepticism around Bloom Energy's Bloom Box. Fuel cells have been tried before, and always come up short. With all the secrecy around the project, such as no sign on his building, a cryptic Web site, and no public progress reports, there are many doubters.

On "60 Minutes" on Sunday, CEO K.R. Sridhar invited "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl for a first look at the innards of Bloom Energy's Bloom box, which he has been working on for nearly a decade. Here's a partial transcript from the very start of the story:
Stahl asked, "What could this power?"

"This could power a U.S. home. Average United States home." he said.

"Something that small?" she asked.

"The way we make it is in two blocks. This is a European home. The two put together is a U.S. home," he explained.

"'Cause we use twice as much energy, is that what you're saying?" Stahl asked.

"Yeah, and this'll power four Asian homes," he replied.

"So four homes in India, your native country?" Stahl asked.

"Four to six homes in our country," Sridhar replied.

"It sounds awfully dazzling," Stahl remarked.

"It is real. It works," he replied.

He says he knows it works because he originally invented a similar device for NASA. He really is a rocket scientist.

"This invention, working on Mars, would have allowed the NASA administrator to pick up a phone and say, 'Mr. President, we know how to produce oxygen on Mars,'" Sridhar told Stahl.

"So this was going to produce oxygen so people could actually live on Mars?" she asked.

"Absolutely," Sridhar replied.

When NASA scrapped that Mars mission, K.R. had an idea: he reversed his Mars machine. Instead of it making oxygen, he pumped oxygen in.

He invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs. K.R. feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. No need for burning or combustion, No need for power lines from an outside source.
It's obvious how promising Bloom Energy's Bloom Box would be. You could put two fuel cells at each U.S. house and rather than having transmission lines, generate electricity right there.

Japan is already pushing a sort of alternative idea: solar power in homes. In fact, solar power capacity in Japan rose to 483,960 kilowatts in 2009, 2.1 times more than the 2008 total. Some 88.6 percent of solar battery shipments in 2009 were for home systems. The new installations cover the power needs of more than 100,000 households at current consumption rates. Clean energy is an emerging market segment, and would be worth billions to the company or companies that can succeed.

How does Bloom Energy's Bloom Box work, without (in proposed production quantities) costing an arm and a leg to produce? That is a big question, and K.R. Sridhar let Stahl into some of the secret, though naturally, not all.

Sridhar said he bakes beach sand and cuts it into squares that are turned into a ceramic. Then he coats it with green and black "inks" that he developed, which is of course, the secret. "And you take that and you apply that. You paint that on either side of this white ceramic to get a green layer and a black layer. And that's it." The finished product is shown above, a skinny Bloom Box fuel cell. You need a stack of them to really get effective power.

One cell powers a light bulb. Between each cell is a metal plate. Unlike other fuel cells, rather than platinum, Sridhar uses a cheap metal alloy. "The stacks are the heart of the Bloom box: put 64 of them together and you get something big enough to power a Starbucks."

Sridhar gave Stahl a sneak peek inside the Bloom box, the first ever given to the public.

"All those modules that we saw go into this big box. Fuel goes in, air goes in, out comes electricity," he explained.

What is the fuel, however? Most recently, the fuel cells intended to power cars required hydrogen. That was an issue, because hydrogen is difficult to transport. In this case, the fuel can be a variety of choices.

"Our system can use fossil fuels like natural gas. Our system can use renewable fuels like landfill gas, bio-gas. We can use solar."

Of course, using fossil fuels is a dead end. Eventually that will run out. Renewable fuels as a power source is very encouraging.

Additionally, Sridhar already has 20 large companies using Bloom Boxes in California. They include FedEx, WalMart, Staples, eBay, and that power-sucking company known as Google was their first customer. Google is trying anything it can think of to reduce its power use.

One reason California companies have signed up is California subsidizes 20 percent of the cost, and there is an additional 30 percent federal tax break because it's a "green" technology. The total cut is therefore half.

Bloom boxes, many think, are not the be-all and end-all. After all, there is so much power used by the world, no one technology can cure our ills. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whio joined Bloom Energy's board of directors last year, put it this way, when asked if Bloom boxes could be the fix for our our energy needs.

"I have seen the technology and it works," but, "I think that's too big a claim to make. I think it is part of the transformation of the energy system. But I think the Bloom boxes will make a significant contribution."

Finishing up the segment:
Stahl: "You are an idealist."

Sridhar: "You know, it's about seeing the world as what it can be and not what it is."

Stahl: "I see you seeing a Bloom box in the basement of the White House."

Sridhar: "Absolutely. I would love that to go on the lawn."

Stahl: "So, forget the basement. You want the Bloom box in the Rose Garden?"

Sridhar: "Maybe next to that organic vegetable garden," Sridhar joked. "I would be happy with that."
Watch the entire video segment:

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StarCraft II Beta Keys Being Auctioned

The highly anticipated sequel to the 1998 mega-hit StarCraft, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, recently entered private beta, and for those excluded from the beta who can't waitany longer, there are ways to get a beta key. Of course, they all involve an exchange of cash.

StarCraft II beta keys are being sold or auctioned in quite a few places. In fact, you can find them on eBay, with one BuyItNow price as high as $500. If you search through the completed listings, you can find one that sold for $500, but most seem to be going in the $150 - 200 range.

They are also on Craigslist as well.

Of course, this type of deal is rife with scams, and there's a lot of things that $150 - 200 can buy, besides an early peek at a beta. Think hard before you opt in.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Is iPad Pre-Order Availability Near?

Apple hasn't announced an exact date for iPad availability. Rather, their website still just says "late March" for wi-fi only iPads. There's also no date listed for pre-orders, but that may be about to change, as well.

AppAdvice says an anonymous source "familiar with the matter," told them that Apple will begin taking pre-orders of the iPad as early as February 25th. Of course, you can stamp this note with a big fat "rumor," and as such, who knows, really?

There's also really no reason to hang out on Apple's site refreshing, or to turn on auto-refresh of a tab dedicated to http://www.apple.com/ipad. You can simply sign up on that same page to be auto-notified when pre-orders start.
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