Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tyler Clementi: the Web as both a bane and a boon

It's a prime example of a suicide caused by cyberbullying, the streaming online of a sexual encounter between 18-year-old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi as well as the Tweeting about the incident. At the same time, however, it appears Clementi reached out for help, on the Web, in the days prior to jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

While it cannot be 100 percent confirmed, a thread on JustUsBoys.com, a forum for gay men, was started by a user named "cit2mo." That thread described a situation with "college roommate spying....." and a scenario identical to Clementi's.

Additional evidence found by Gawker included the fact that cit2mo's IP address resolved back the Rutgers. Additionally, Forbes' Kashmir Hill positively identified cit2mo as Clementi, based on an August 22 Tweet from Dharun Ravi, Clementi's roommate, saying"Found out my roommate is gay," and linking to a thread on JustUsBoys that Ravi said was Clementi.

Unfortunately, it seems the advice Tyler Clementi may have gathered from the Web didn't offset the pain given to him by the Web. After a Facebook farewell, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge and into the Hudson River. On Thursday, authorities positively identified a man's body found on Wednesday as his.

Clementi's roommate, Dbarun Ravi, 18, and another student, fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, also 18, have been charged with invading Clementi's privacy. Prosecutors say that the pair used a webcam to transmit a live feed of Clementi having sex Sept. 19th and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi's suicide.

Those charges would carry a maximum of five years. However, prosecutors said that hate-crime charges are possible in the case. In order to do that, prosecutors must establish that the defendants were motivated because of Clementi's homosexuality. That is not always easy to prove.

While the decision to pursue a hate-crime charge is, of course, the purview of prosecutors, some seem to have made up their minds. Rutgers student Lauren Felton, 21, said,
"Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened. He wouldn't have been outed via an online broadcast, and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life."


Interest in Android surges among prospective buyers, while iPhone drops: ChangeWave

What a difference a few months makes, in terms of demand for the iPhone. While Apple is selling a ton of iPhone 4's, interest among future prospective buyers continues to move in the direction of Android.

In ChangeWave Research's latest consumer survey for Mobile Operating System Preferences fort future purchases, completed Sept. 23 among 4,000 respondents, the iPhone took a real dive from the last such survey (June), when 50 percent said they wanted their next smartphone purchase to be an iPhone. Now that number is only 38 percent.

However, that figure was expected, said Paul Carton, Vice President of Research at ChangeWave. The huge number of those interested in the iPhone in June is a natural representation of the excitement over a new product launch. It was bound to drop off.

At the same time, Google's Android rose from 30 percent in both March and June to 37 percent now. That figure represents a 6x increase from a year ago. Despite the fact that the iPhone drop was expected, this is the closest Android and iPhone interest has ever been in a ChangeWave report.

RIM's BlackBerry devices were preferred by only 6 percent of survey respondents, up from 5 percent in June. That could be a response to the launch of the BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry OS 6.

Meanwhile, Windows Mobile is down from 2 percent to 1 percent, while webOS is statistically a big fat zero. It will be interesting to see how Windows Phone 7's impending launch will affect the survey, if at all.

The report also looked at customer satisfaction. iOS continues to lea with 74 percent of saying they’re Very Satisfied while 65 percent of Android users feel the same. Apparently, even in terms of satisfaction, Android is seeing improvements in the way customers view the OS.

Meanwhile, things really fall off after that, with very satisfied users of PalmOS / webOS numbering 32 percent, BlackBerry OS at 31 percent, and Windows Mobile dead last at 24 percent.



Yabba Dabba Doo! Google celebrates 50 years of 'The Flintstones'

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones. It is the first part of the theme song to the 60s animated sitcom "The Flintstones," and Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010 was its 50th anniversary, Google reminded us that day with its latest Google Doodle.

Google is famous for using the Doodles on its homepage to celebrate special events. Sometimes, they are mystery Doodles, but not this one.

The Flintstones debuted as a prime-time animated comedy series on ABC on September 30, 1960. It lasted six seasons on television, and it spawned numerous spin-off and sequel animated shows, two live-action movies, theme park characters, and even chewable children's vitamins.

The Fred and Wilma Flintstone were a family living in the Stone Age, along with their neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble. Although they were prehistoric, they had cars and another modern technology, but fashioned in a Stone Age manner. For example, a can opener might be a bird, whose bill was used to open the can (indeed, there should have been no cans, we are aware of that).

The show became such a hit that, much like the Simpsons of today, celebrities would guest voice on it. Examples included Tony Curtis (who played Stony Curtis) and Ann-Margret (Ann-Margrock). The Flintstones and Rubbles were voiced as follows:
  • Alan Reed - Fred Flintstone
  • Mel Blanc - Barney Rubble
  • Jean Vander Pyl - Wilma Flintstone
  • Bea Benaderet - Betty Rubble
  • Gerry Johnson - Betty Rubble, season 5 and 6, after Benaderet's illness due to lung cancer
For five episodes (the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 9th) during the second season, Daws Butler replaced Mel Blanc. At that time, Blanc was incapacitated by a near-fatal car accident.

There were kids and pets, too: Pebbles Flintstone, the super-strong Bamm-Bamm Rubble, Dino and Hoppy.  Watch a little video of the Flintstones, and Yabba Dabba Doo, it's 50 years, too!





Apple TV teardown: A4 CPU, 256MB RAM, 8GB NAND flash

iFixit, repair shop of all things Apple, has torn down another Apple product, this time the 2nd generation Apple TV. iFixit founder Kyle Wiens said that the Apple TV was "surprisingly repairable," with iFixit giving the device an 8/10 for its Repairability Score.

Although the new version no longer allows users to purchase and store content on it, Apple still managed to stuff 256MB of RAM and 8GB of flash storage into the new Apple TV (in fact, they found a Samsung K9LCG08U1M 8GB NAND Flash chip, the same they found when they tore down the iPad).

Since the new Apple TV doesn't allow purchases any longer, only rentals, some wondered how much (if any) internal storage would be provided. The 8GB of storage appears to be caching the rented videos as they're being streamed.

The wi-fi board is via Panasonic, with a Broadcom BCM4329XKUBG 802.11n Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM chip on-board, exactly the same as the one found on the iPad. Meanwhile, the A4 processor is different from the iPhone 4, but indentical to the iPad and 4th Generation iPod Touch, with a K4X2G643GE marking.

iFixit's teardown's don't typically included dollar figures, as iSuppli's do. Here are the details of their repairability rating:
Apple TV Repairability: 8 out of 10 (10 is easiest to repair)

Green:
Relatively easy to open case that can be easily reassembled.
Separate power supply board that can be replaced independently of the logic board.
Simple design - there's 6 pieces!
Relatively common fasteners (Phillips and T6 Torx) found throughout.

Yellow:
Thermal pads rather than thermal paste means no messy cleanup.

Red:
Lots of expensive electronics housed on one singular board means that if one fries, the board is toast.

Overall
The ease of repairing this device, integrated high-efficiency power supply, low 6-watt power consumption, and efficient stand-by mode lead us to believe this may be the most eco-friendly set-top box of all time!
The ease of repair index could mean easy tinkering, or even hacking. This is, after all, an iDevice.



4Chan leaks private data; anti-filesharing firm ACS:Law faces fines

Here's a maxim: don't tick off 4Chan. Whether it's the "Cat Bin Lady" or the "Puppy Throwing Girl," it's a bad idea. ACS:Law, a law firm based in Great Britain that tracks down alleged illegal file sharers for the porn industry, may have received the message.

If you think that only mainstream Hollywood cares about P2P filesharing of movies, you'd be wrong. The porn industry cares, too, and as such ACS:Law was targeted last week as a part of "Operation: Payback is a bitch."

However, ACS:Law chief Andrew Crossley managed to bring further wrath from 4Chan down on his company, when he said the following in a conversation with The Register.
"It was only down for a few hours. I have far more concern over the fact of my train turning up 10 minutes late or having to queue for a coffee than them wasting my time with this sort of rubbish."
Crossley was just asking for a response from 4Chan, and he got it as well.

After those comments, 4Chan hit ACS:Law a second time, taking down the site. Worse, while bringing up the site, someone exposed the server's directory structure through the Web, and 4Chan members took advantage and grabbed a 350MB of ACS Law e-mails, and put the entire batch up on sites like (ironically) The Pirate Bay.

This could end up costing ACS:Law a ton of money. Since the e-mails include numerous attachments filled with tons of private information of those being pursued (and not pursued) by ACS:Law, including names, addresses, etc., and since the U.K. has strict data protection laws, ACS:Law faces possible fines. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which has the power to fine companies up to $800,000 if it is determined the company did too little to protect data.

This sort of leak, could fall into that category. The ICO has made it clear that ACS:Law might be on the hook for a fine.

Once again don't tick off 4Chan. Did we mention how much we appreciated 4Chan's work in the case of the "Cat Bin Lady?"



Gmail's loved / hated / used to 'Conversation View' now toggle-able

Some people love Gmail's conversation view, and some people hate it. Some just have gotten used to it. Now, however, if you don't like it, you can turn it off.

In Gmail's conversation view, an email thread is linked together in one "cluster" in your inbox. It means, in effect, sorting by Subject to see a thread is no longer necessary. Still, not all like it.

Toggling of Conversation View has been a requested feature for some time, and although many (like us) feel conversation view simplifies things, it can be a pain if the email client you are using doesn't support it. Obviously, going to Gmail in the browser is no issue, but some stand-alone clients on the desktop and mobile don't work well with it.

Starting Wednesday, users can go into their Settings and turn off Conversation View. However, cloud-based as it is, as is typical of these feature changes, it will take time to reach all users.

In a blog post, Wiltse Carpenter, Technical Lead at Google compares the dislike of Conversation View to the dislike of cilantro.
And just as an outspoken minority has banded together in unison to declare their distaste of one of nature’s most delicious herbs, some of you have been very vocal about your dislike of conversation threading. So just like you can order your baja fish tacos without cilantro, you can now get Gmail served up sans conversation view.
Try it and tell us what you think. We'll stick with Conversation View, ourselves; we are among those who have "gotten used to it."



Twitter passes MySpace for third among social networking sites

Twitter has passed MySpace, in terms unique visitors to become the No. 3 social networking-type service in the world, according to new data from market research firm comScore. Meanwhile, both sites are still dwarfed by No. 1 and No. 2, Facebook and Microsoft’s Windows Live.

The trends are bad for MySpace, which long ago lost its crown to Facebook, in early 2008, and has been sinking since. Facebook reached 598 million monthly uniques in the August 2010, up 54 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, Windows Live had 140 million unique visitors.

Twitter snuck past MySpace, with nearly 96 million unique visitors in August, up 76 percent from the same period last year. MySpace, however, dropped 17 percent year-over-year, to 95 million unique visitors in August 2010.

It was actually invitable that Twitter pass MySpace, as the trends were heading in that direction for some time. Asked by the Wall Street Journal for comment, Rosabel Tao, a MySpace spokeswoman, said,
“Any comparisons between MySpace and other Internet services are irrelevant as MySpace’s mix of offerings is uniquely different and specifically focused on audiences under the age of 35."
Meanwhile, Carolyn Penner, a Twitter spokeswoman, said in a statement:
“While we generally don’t comment on third-party statistics, the growth measured by others doesn’t surprise us. We’re seeing 370,000 new accounts a day.”
In other words, yea baby!



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rutgers student commits suicide after roommate webcasts gay sexual encounter

A freshman at Rutgers University, Tyler Clementi, 18, posted a farewell message on Facebook, then committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22. His suicide followed the illicit taping, then posting to the Internet, of his sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room, by Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, also 18.

Just prior to his suicide, at 8:42PM on Sept. 22nd, Tyler Clementi posted the following to his Facebook page: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

In New Jersey, it is a fourth-degree crime to collect images showing sexual content or nudity without the subject's consent. It is a third-degree crime to transmit the relevant content.

Given that, Ravi and another first year student, Molly Wei, also 18 years old, are charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using a webcam to transmit the secretly record footage on Sept. 19, authorities said. Additionally, Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for attempting to use the webcam to tape and transmit another encounter two days later. These crimes carry prison sentences of up to five years.

Ravi allegedly used the program iChat to post the video on the Internet, and also Tweeted a message about the posting, although the Tweet has since been taken down. However, the Tweet wase said to have said:
"Roommate (Tyler Clementi) asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's (Wei) room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."
Two days later, Ravi tweeted, when he attempted to get the second encounter on tape:
"Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again."
Ravi and Wei have both been released from police custody, with Ravi out on $25,000 bail and Wei released on her own recognizance. Rutgers officials are likely to take disciplinary action against the students. As Rutgers spokeswoman Sandra Lanman said,
"The university takes these matters seriously and has policies to deal with student behavior."
A Facebook memorial group was created to honor Tyler Clementi. Clementi was an accomplished musician, as seen from the Facebook image above. The Clementi family lawyer, Paul Minardi, released a statement today, which was posted on the Facebook page:
"Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician. The family is heartbroken beyond words. They respectfully request that they be given time to grieve their great loss and that their privacy at this painful time be respected by all. The family and their representatives are cooperating fully with the ongoing criminal investigations of two Rutgers University students."
Realistically, this is just another example of cyberbullying, which has resulted in suicides before, such as the famous MySpace suicide of Megan Meier. Watch a video report below.

 



T&Cs for rumored Amazon.com Android Marketplace leak

News broke on Tuesday of a possible Amazon.com marketplace for Android, one that would sit alongside, more or less, the Android Market. On Wednesday, a little birdie dropped the terms and conditions into SlashGear's inbox, and it seems to confirm a lot of what TechCrunch had to say.

Indeed, the T&Cs confirm things like the developer royalties, listed as “equal to the greater of (i) 70% of the purchase price or (ii) 20% of the List Price,” as well as a $99 annual developer. Also, any updates must be made to Amazon.com's marketplace at the same time it is made to any other "similar service."

Additionally, Amazon.com has the right to modify your binaries and add their own DRM.

You can read the full T&Cs at SlashGear.



HP EVP leaks 'PalmPad' webOS tablet name

HP has been talking about a webOS tablet, targeted for Q1 2011, for some time. What hasn't been made clear is the name, although all bets were on "PalmPad" since HP began proceedings to trademark that name in July. Well, "loose lips sink ships," and we now seem to have confirmation on that name.

Todd Bradley, Executive Vice President of HP's Personal Systems Group, said the following on an analyst call on Wednesday:
We've already announced the expansion of our future product portfolio well beyond smartphones. We'll have a webOS-powered PalmPad that will be set for release early in 2011.
Early in 2011 is the same date they've been given for some time. The question is, can HP make it by CES, which would be really early in 2011.

Earlier reports had Todd Bradley as the favorite to succeed Mark Hurd as HP CEO, but if he's this loose-lipped ...




National Coffee Day: more than half would disconnect from cell phones before decaffeinating

The results of a new, obviously unscientific survey released in time for Sept. 29, 2010, National Coffee day, may shock some. 54 percent of survey respondents said they would rather give up their cell phone before giving up their daily cup of coffee.

It is National Coffee Day, after all, so we would have to wonder if the results have been skewed at all. After all, Googling a little will show numerous studies that indicate that folks would rather give up sex than their cell phone. By extrapolation, that would mean they'd rather give up sex than coffee.


Get Your Free Coffeemaker and Travel Mug Today!
Let's also not forget the results of an earlier study, which indicated that nearly half of women would ditch sex first, ahead of the Internet. Given Web browsing capabilities on smartphones, one has to wonder if Filterfresh Coffee Service, Inc., a leading provider of home and office coffee products and supplies, was clear enough to respondents in its 2010 Filterfresh Coffee Report.

At any rate, it is National Coffee Day, so here are further results:
  • 95 percent of survey respondents receive their daily shot of caffeine from coffee, over tea, soda and energy drinks
  • 59 percent of those surveyed drink two to three cups of coffee per day
  • 72 percent of those surveyed say coffee improves their mental focus
  • 82 percent of those surveyed say coffee is not a meal replacement
  • 32 percent of survey respondents said they would tell someone if they had coffee breath
  • 90 percent of respondents drink coffee in the morning
  • 72 percent drink it with their co-workers
  • 30 percent of respondents indicated that they would not meet with their boss prior to their morning cup of coffee
Meanwhile, a different survey, by Dunkin' Donuts and Career Builder, focused on which profession drank the most coffee. The study was conducted between Aug. 17 and Sept. 2 and included more than 3,600 workers nationwide.

The list of the 12 heaviest coffee drinkers is as follows:

1) Nurses
2) Physicians
3) Hotel workers
4) Designers/Architects
5) Financial/Insurance sales representatives
6) Food preparers
7) Engineers
8) Teachers
9) Marketing/Public Relations professionals
10) Scientists
11) Machine operators
12) Government workers

Indeed, it appears the view that programmers and engineers are the most caffeinated is not true. At any rate, it's time to get some coffee.



GameCrush: play video games with hot girls (or guys), for a fee

GameCrush, which has been in private beta testing since March of this year, has gone live. It's an obvious idea since most gamers are men: get them to pay to hook up online with attractive women and use their joysticks, er, play video games with them.

To be clear, the PlayDates, as they are called, can be men or women. They can make as much as $20 an hour, according to the site's press release. Meanwhile, gamers, seeking to play (ahem) with these PlayDates pay $0.60 a minute. Additionally, developers of games used on the site get rev share, as well.

In addition to securing a live one-on-one gaming session, you can chat live with online PlayDates. They show up on the site with red borders around their images. Obviously, some are a little more provocative with their images, such as Lavelle (above). On the other hand, LethalCupcake looks downright studious.

There are a number of Flash-based games integrated into the site, but GameCrush says it currently any game in a Player or PlayDate’s online multiplayer library, "including open-ended games, co-op games and competitive games. "

GameCrush was demonstrated onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield in San Francisco Tuesday, and one of the obvious questions that came up was if this could a video game version of ChatRoulette. The company was quick to note that GameCrush users aren’t anonymous, and that banning of IP address and other sorts of remedies exist.

When launched in March, the site had "flirty" or "dirty" game sessions. Now, GameCrush has created four gaming zones to help define the type of interaction between Players and PlayDates. These zones include:
  • The Arcade - Fun is the name of the game. Nice and chill.
  • The Arena - For serious gamers. Butt-kickings handed out left and right.
  • The Academy - Learn tips and tricks from experienced PlayDates.
  • The Edge - Not for the faint of heart. This could get interesting (More detail: IGN describes this zone as for players looking for something risque).
Read the company's press release below:

GameCrush 2dot0 Launch Release_FINAL_092810



Free Phone Fridays coming to Best Buy in October

Free phones on Fridays? That's what Best Buy announced on Tuesday at its Holiday Preview event in New York. Free Phone Fridays will run every Friday in October, and starts Oct. 1st. It's not just about lame devices either: one of the devices in the first group: the Samsung Fascinate on the Verizon network.

Each Free Phone Friday will include a device from each of the big 4 U.S. carrier (T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon). This week's selections:
  • Samsung Fascinate (Verizon)
  • BlackBerry Curve (Sprint)
  • HTC Aria (AT&T)
  • Samsung Gravity 3 (T-Mobile)
Except for this initial week, the weekly deals will be announced in stores and online, including Best Buy Mobile’s Facebook page and Twitter account, at 1 p.m. CT on Thursday. The free phones require a new, upgrade or add-a-line activation with a two-year agreement. Not that you expected it, but there will be no rain checks.

We would expect the iPhone 4 to not make this promotion, but Best Buy does say that each week will feature "at least one high-end, in-demand smart phone." We'll take a wild guess and say the Fascinate is this week's in-demand phone (certainly not the BlackBerry Curve).



Bed bugs are the new 'washing my hair': Facebook app survey

AreYouInterested is a web site, a Facebook app, and an iPhone app, all focused on one thing: dating. They've run somewhat quirky surveys before, including a survey on breaking up via Facebook. This one is also "different," and it shows that bed bugs are the new "hair washing" in terms of avoiding a date.

Bed bug news is becoming rampant nationwide. The blood-sucking pests are experiencing a "resurgence," experts say. Recently, Nike's flagship store in New York City was closed due to an infestation.

The survey, via their Facebook app, as AreYouInterested has previously done, wasn't a huge one, but it did have more than 100 responses. Here are some bullet points:
  • 56% of responders would leave their date if they noticed bed bug bites on his/her skin (we're not sure how they would differentiate from say, flea bites)
  • 45% would use bed bugs as an excuse to get out of a bad date
  • 47% would ask if their date had bed bugs before going back to his/her place
  • 45% would cancel a date if someone admitted to a bed bug infestation
  • 35% have changed their usual dating spots because of a fear of bed bugs
Since 37 percent said they would cancel a date if someone admitted a bed bug infestation, one can see that the tactic of using it to get out of a bad date would work quite well.

Clifford Lerner, CEO of SNAP Interactive, Inc., parent of AreYouInterested, said, "I never imagined using the words 'bed bugs' and 'dating' in the same sentence but with the recent wide-spread infestation, many singles are taking extra precautions. While asking about bed bugs may create a slightly awkward and embarrassing first encounter when meeting a date, our survey shows many singles believe it's necessary."

As noted above, AreYouInterested is a property of Snap Interactive. In addition, the company also has the MySpace app "Flirt with Me," and the Facebook app "Meet New People."



References to unidentified hardware, new iPhones appear in latest Apple TV firmware

We've seen it before, and we're seeing it again. Frequently OS drops, even betas contain references to new Apple devices in Apple-speak, and the latest revision of the Apple TV firmware is no different.

The firmware contains references to iPhone3,2 and iPhone3,3. These were actually previously outed in April and are now appearing in a new "cameo." Since the iPhone3,1 refers to the iPhone 4, these would appear to be iPhone 4 variants. Perhaps one is a GSM version for T-Mobile, and one is a CDMA version for Verizon?

That, of course, is just speculation. Additionally, though, something listed as "unknown hardware" with a 20547 product ID has shown up as well. Hard to say exactly what that is.



'Kindle for the Web' book sampling service launches

Amazon.com has released a beta service called "Kindle on the Web." It's not exactly what you might think ... it's not a web-based version of the Kindle e-book reader, which allows you to read entire e-books you have purchased. Instead, it's a way for sites, publishers, writers to embed first chapters of books as a sample.

It's obvious why publishers or writers would want to pimp their wares. Why would sites want to embed samples? That's also obvious if they are Amazon Associates. They can embed the sample code, along with their Associate ID, and make some cash if anyone buys as a result of sampling the book.

To do so, all they need to do is go to selected books on Amazon.com, click on "Kindle Edition - Read First Chapter FREE," click on the Embed code button, and make sure they enter their Amazon Associates ID. The sample can be customized in terms of size on a web page as well.

Additionally, while it sounds similar to the "Look Inside" feature, Kindle for the Web allows readers to change the font size and format; "Look Inside" maintains the formatting of the printed page.

It's cool, and it seems to be a win / win for bloggers, publishers, and writers. Amazon.com hopes its a win for itself, as well. Meanwhile, you can sample The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo below, and tell us what you think.





Study suggests texting bans raise accident rates slightly

Bans against text messaging while driving don't help reduce accidents, but may in fact increase them, according to a study by the research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The reason isn't because the laws are flawed, per se, but because humans are. The report theorizes scofflaws try to get away with texting while driving, putting the phone into their lap and taking their attention further away from driving.

The IIHS research arm is the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). Researchers at the HLDI compared collision insurance claims in four states (California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington) immediately before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.

Since they couldn't directly attribute crashes to texting, researchers compared data from surrounding states where texting laws weren't changed substantially. Those states did not see a significant change in their accident rates.

Additionally, it's well-known that young drivers are more likely to text while driving. In all 4 of the studied states, crashes increased among drivers younger than 25 after the bans went into effect, and in California, Louisiana, and Washington, the increases for young drivers were greater than for drivers 25 and older. Young drivers in California had the largest rate increase of all (12 percent).

However, if it were just the fact that drivers were ignoring the laws, the accident rates would have remained steady, the HLDI asserted. The change, they theorized, is that drivers responded to the bans, but not by stopping their texting, but changing the way they did so.
"[...] clearly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers' eyes further from the road and for a longer time."
Since these bans were put into place to reduce accidents, clearly they are not working. HLDI said:
HLDI's new findings about texting, together with the organization's previous finding that hand-held phone bans didn't reduce crashes, "call into question the way policymakers are trying to address the problem of distracted driving crashes," Lund adds.

"They're focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem."
This creates a conundrum: how to stop some behavior when stopping a ban on the behavior causes a change in drivers that makes things worse?

On the other hand, many of these states, such as California, have such low fines. In California, the fines are $20 for a first offense, and $50 for each additional. There are also no points applied to a driver's license for each infraction. According to AAA of Southern California, a recent sampling of 4,000 Orange County cars found that 2.7 percent of all drivers are texting while driving, a doubling from 1.4 percent just prior to the enactment of the law. Immediately after the law went into effect, studies showed numbers dropped to 0.5 percent of drivers.

AAA officials said the survey shows better enforcement of the law and higher penalties are needed. Notably, recently CHP officers on motorcycles have been seen peering into cars, looking for either hands-free or texting violators.

There are, of course, already technologies that can be used to prevent texting while driving. They aren't mandatory, but require opt-in and payments by the user, as well. There would have to be technology standard on cell phones and vehicles in order to fully halt the practice.

Others say that texting is just the tip of the iceberg. HLDI said:
"They're focusing on a single manifestation of distracted driving and banning it. This ignores the endless sources of distraction and relies on banning one source or another to solve the whole problem."
One need only look at the automakers adding wi-fi to their cars to see things are going to get worse in terms of distractions, not better.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RIM confirms PlayBook QNX OS to migrate to smartphones

It's been said that the BlackBerry OS is tired and old (sounds somewhat like Windows Mobile and Symbian, doesn't it?). On Tuesday, at the BlackBerry Developer Conference, a RIM VP confirmed that the QNX operating system announced on Monday, that will be run on RIM's new PlayBook tablet will in face replace BlackBerry OS, over time.

GoDaddy.com Hosting just $1.99/mo! 120x60  It's that "over time" phrase that catches the eye. It's a major transition, he said, adding that BlackBerry OS 7 would probably be a "stepping stone" in the transition process.

None of this is unexpected. Unlike Microsoft, however, which has said that Windows 6.5 apps will not run on Windows Phone 7, the QNX OS has a runtime which means existing BlackBerry apps written in Java will still work.

TiVo Premiere


AOL announces TechCrunch acquisition

As predicted (or leaked) by GigaOM, AOL has purchased TechCrunch. Financial details for the deal were not announced, but sources have told CNBC the price was $40 million, although Business Insider said insiders say the price was $25 million. BI believes the difference in numbers are due to earn-outs for performance.

AOL is in the process from turning itself from a failed (though once huge) ISP into a web content powerhouse. Via its prior acquisition of Weblogs Inc., AOL already owns tech product blogs Engadget, TUAW, Joystiq, and more.

The deal for TechCrunch includes CrunchBase, which is an online database of information about start-ups. It also includes the "Crunchy" spinoffs MobileCrunch, CrunchGear, etc., etc.

What the deal doesn't include is a muzzle on founder Michael Arrington (above). Arrington has at times been known for controversial posts, and at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Arrington said, "We have absolutely no editorial bounds at all." He also added that he plans to stay with AOL for at least three years.

Read the press release below:

AOL Tech Crunch Press Release


App Store approves iOS version of Google Voice: report

We've seen more than one Google Voice-enabled apps enter the App Store since Apple released the App Store approval requirements publicly. So far, no official GV app, though. That will be changing soon, according to a report.

TechCrunch says that a source "close to Google" tells them that the official Google Voice application has been approved already by the App Store. Hold on, however, entrance into the App Store is still a few weeks away; Google has to retune the application to work with iOS 4’s multitasking. Of course, that will mean a resubmission, and a re-approval, but it shouldn't be a big deal, now that it's been approved once.

GV-enabled apps (sans an official version) had been in the App Store, but then were summarily banned, all at once, in late July of 2009. That led to an eventual FCC inquiry, although nothing came of it.

Since then, Google released an HTML5 version of the GV app, so that users could get their hands on it on non-jailbroken devices (GV Mobile went from the App Store to Cydia, for jailbroken devices, after its ban. It's since been re-accepted into the App Store).

There is nothing like a native app, however, as webapps can't look at certain things on the device, such as (ugh) contacts. Naturally, Google has no comment on this, but we've been expecting them to release a native app since the other, third-party native apps have been accepted.

Indeed, it seems like hell has frozen over, if this is true.  Now if Flash was accepted on  iOS, then it would be freezing in Cupertino.



Raytheon unveils their latest exoskeleton model, XOS 2

We wrote about Raytheon Sarcos first exoskeleton, the XOS 1, in 2007. On Monday, the company just unveiled Gen2 of the "closest thing to Iron Man," the XOS 2. Not surprisingly, the demonstration came with the help of Paramount Home Entertainment.

No, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) did not appear, but the XOS 2 did appear. The demonstration coincides with the release of Iron Man 2, on Tuesday.

Sounding like the Bionic Man or Woman compared to a human, the new robotic suit called XOS 2 is lighter, faster and stronger than its predecessor, but uses 50 percent less power. It is also more resistant to the environment.

The XOS 2 does the lifting for its operator. In fact, one operator in an exoskeleton can do the work of two to three human soldiers. The suit is powered by high-pressure hydraulics, and an operator wearing it can easily lift 200 pounds, not just once, but several hundred times without tiring. He could also repeatedly punch through three inches of wood.

Fraser Smith, vice president of operations for Raytheon Sarcos said,
"XOS 1 was essentially a proof of concept. With XOS 2, we targeted power consumption and looked for ways to use the hydraulic energy more efficiently. That's resulted in us being able to add capabilities while significantly reducing power consumption.

"Getting exoskeletons deployed is inevitable in my view. They are desperately needed, and I believe the military looks at them as viable solutions to a number of current issues they are trying to address. With a sustained commitment, they could be in place within five years."
Of course, we're still missing a few things. Where's the uni-beam, the repulsors, and the jet boots? Ah well, perhaps someday.

Meanwhile, watch a video of the XOS 2.





Apple, Google dominate media coverage; Microsoft coverage dips

If you ever had the feeling that Apple got a) too much press exposure, b) Apple also received too much praise during that exposure, you'd be right. At least, that's the conclusion issued by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The PEJ issued a report on Monday. From June 2009 through June 2010, 15.1 percent of the technology stories focused on Apple. It's big rival, Google, earned 11.4 percent of the stories. Meanwhile, where the heck is Microsoft? Way down there at 3 percent.

Above Microsoft, in fact, were Facebook at 4.8 percent and Twitter at 7.1 percent. However, PEJ said that Twitter’s coverage ranking was pushed up by its communication role during the Iranian post-election protests in the summer of 2009. Facebook coverage focused on the service and its interaction with its users, including, of course, all those privacy issues.

At least these companies had some amount of coverage.  PEJ noted that no other company, not Yahoo! or Amazon.com or Best Buy, or anything, registered more than 1 percent.

PEJ also noted that the media seem in love with Apple. 42 percent of the stories about Apple "suggested that its products are innovative and superior in quality." Google also had positive press, but only have as much at 20 percent. And one recurring them about Google was definitely negative: the idea that the company has way too much information and way too much power appeared in 19 percent of the stories about Google.



Study cites increasing frequency, severity of Segway-related injuries

One day after the death of the owner of the Segway company, in a tragic accident, doctors are warning over injuries due to the two-wheeled transporter. Not only are injuries becoming more common, they say, they are becoming more serious.

James Heselden, who bought the Segway company in Dec. 2009 from Segway inventor Dean Kamen, was killed on Sunday when he drove his transporter off a cliff and into the River Wharfe, as he was inspecting his estate.

Dr. Mary Pat McKay, a professor of emergency medicine and public health at the George Washington University, released a case study of 41 Segway injuries on Monday. Among patients who came to the George Washington emergency room between April 2005 and November 2008, ten, or 24 percent, were admitted to the hospital, while four were rushed to the ICU. McKay said:
“What we need is a system to look at this on a national basis, which we don’t have now. People are falling off of Segways and they’re really getting hurt.”
The study was completed long before James Heselden's accident, and its release is coincidental.

What was most interesting was the types of injuries. Researchers were surprised at the number of severe Segway-related injuries. Victims would suffer massive facial trauma, even brain injuries and fractures, including collarbones, ribs, ankles, and arms. Fortunately, no deaths were reported.

Most simply fell off their Segways, which could be accounted for, perhaps, by the fact that many of those injured were visitors to the D.C. area, and rented the Segways as part of a tour. They were thus unfamiliar with the transporters.

The study, McKay said, shows how important it is to wear helmets while riding Segways.
“They’re kind of cool, they look like they’re pretty easy to use, there’s an idea of ‘How hurt could you get?' I think we’ve documented in this paper that you can get really hurt.”


The U.S. seeks to ease Internet wiretapping

We've seem recently that some foreign governments want RIM to open up its BlackBerry service so they can peek at as much data as they want, all in the name of national security. Those countries threaten a ban, and while the U.S. isn't going that far, it does want similar capabilities.

The New York Times reports that the federal government will seek to pass a new federal law in 2011, which will force email, instant-messaging, social networking, and any other communication providers that encrypt their services to build in a backdoor for law enforcement, including decryption capability.

Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, noted that agents would still need a court order in order to gain access to encrypted data.
"We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts. We're not talking expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security."
This is the same argument being used in countries like Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and India, over RIM's services. However, James Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, has a different view:
“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet. They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”
The NYT report states that authorities fear their ability to wiretap has been “going dark” as people increasingly use the Internet instead of the telephone. However, there are a lot of technical details to be work out. The bill will likely focus on these requirements:
  • Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
  • Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
  • Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.
Government officials state this new law would be a modest one, because they are not asking for the "key," but rather for the service providers to decrypt the necessary messages when required. Caproni said:
“They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.”


Google turns an even dozen, celebrates its birthday with Thiebaud doodle

Happy anniversary (or birthday), Google. Monday's Google Doodle was a painting by American artist Wayne Thiebaud. Born on Nov. 15, 1920, his most famous works are of cakes, pastries, boots, toilets, toys and lipsticks. Thus, a birthday cake on Google's birthday.

Of course, it's arguable exactly when Google's birthday is. Google.com was registered on September 15, 1997, but Google wasn't incorporated until September 4, 1998. Meanwhile, even the company can't seem to make up its mind: Google has celebrated its birthday on September 7th instead of September 27th at least twice.

Google's first birthday Doodle didn't appear until its fourth birthday, in 2002. This has been an interesting year for Google, with its Android platform making leaps and bounds in market share, its upcoming Google TV, and its issues with China.

Next year Google will be 13. Will its luck turn bad, and will the company continue to maintain, at least in its eyes, it's "Don't be evil" unofficial motto? We'll see in a year (or so).



Monday, September 27, 2010

AOL set to acquire TechCrunch: report

If a report is correct, AOL is about to become as relevant to the Internet as it once was, in the days before broadband was popular, when it was large enough to buy Time-Warner. GigaOM has reported that AOL is on the verge of buying TechCrunch.

The timing couldn't be more perfect; TechCrunch, the online blogging network started by Michael Arrington, is currently holding its Disrupt conference in San Francisco. The report said that the deal is at a sensitive stage and might fall apart. However, GigaOM did not believe that would happen.

In fact, the report indicated that it's possible that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong might make an appearance at Disrupt to announce the deal, assuming it completes. The deal would make sense. No longer an ISP power, AOL wants to become a power in terms of providing content. In 2005, AOL acquired Weblogs Inc., the parent company of some 90 blogs, including popular sites Engadget, TUAW, and Joystiq.

Inc. Magazine recently reported that TechCrunch generates $10 million in annual revenue. Meanwhile, TechCrunch itselfs says it has 9.2 million unique visitors a month.



RIM joins the tablet wars with BlackBerry PlayBook

As expected, RIM on Monday unveiled its tablet at the company's 2010 DevCon conference. RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis channeled Apple CEO Steve Jobs with a sort of “one more thing” moment, saving the announcement for the end of his keynote address. Lazaridis described the PlayBook (not the rumored BlackPad) as “the first professional tablet.”

The PlayBook will not run the company's recented released BlackBerry OS 6. Instead, as we reported, it will run a POSIX-based QNX OS called the BlackBerry Tablet OS. RIM acquired QNX earlier this year.

Here are the specs of the device. Much of the hardware specs are pretty much the same as most of the tablets, sans iPad, that we have seen announced of late (incl. the same 7" screen).
  • 7″ LCD, 1024 x 600 WSVGA, capacitive touch screen with full multi-touch and gesture support
  • BlackBerry Tablet OS with support for symmetric multiprocessing
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Dual cameras (3 MP front-facing, 5 MP rear-facing), supporting 1080p HD video recording
  • Video playback: 1080p HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV
  • Audio playback: MP3, AAC, WMA
  • HDMI video output
  • 802.11n wi-fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • microHDMI, microUSB connectors
  • Open, flexible application platform with support for WebKit/HTML-5, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Reader, POSIX, OpenGL, Java
  • Sized at 5.1″ x 7.6″ x 0.4″ (130mm x 193mm x 10mm)
  • Weight: less than a pound (approximately 0.9 lb or 400g)
Also as we reported earlier, the initial version of the PlayBook will not ship with built-in cellular connectivity. Instead, users need to pair the device with their BlackBerry phones (via Bluetooth) when out of range of wi-fi. The company's press release says it "intends to also offer 3G and 4G models in the future."

The PlayBook is expected to ship in early 2011 for the U.S., and internationally in Q2 2011. No pricing was announced.

Also announced, but overshadowed, in Lazaridis' keynote: in-app payments for BlackBerry apps, a BlackBerry Advertising Service and the opening of BBM as a social platform.

Watch RIM's first video on the PlayBook:





Windows Phone hits Europe on Oct. 21; U.S. on Nov. 8: reports

Two different sets of dates, one for Europe and one for the U.S, have leaked in regards to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 launch. The dates are, of course, unconfirmed.

First, Neowin said that it has been told by "sources familiar with Microsoft's plans" that the company will hold several launch events globally on October 21 to introduce its Windows Phone 7 handsets. Devices will hit retail shelves that same day in the U.K., France, Germany Italy and Spain, the site said. Neowin was unable to confirm a U.S. launch date.

Meanwhile, Windows Phone Secrets said that while unable to confirm a European launch, a very reliable source has told them that Microsoft will have a launch event in the U.S. on Nov. 8.  Taken together, the two dates seem to support each other.

Meanwhile, there have been rumors of an Oct. 11 event in New York City, but WPS says that event is an annual one, and unrelated to Windows Phone. Microsoft said that Windows Phone 7 has been released to manufacturing (RTM). There have also been a number of video ads leaked, and Microsoft is expected to go all out on Marketing. It has a long way to go to catch up with Android, much less iOS, however.



Segway company owner dies, accidentally rides Segway over cliff

The British owner of the Segway company, who had purchased the company less than a year ago, in December 2009, from inventor Dean Kamen, has died in a freak accident, driving the vehicle off a cliff. Jimi Heselden was 62.

Heselden was reportedly using the Segway to inspect the grounds of his property, when he plunged off a cliff and into the River Wharfe. He was using a special ruggedized country version of the Segway.

A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said:
"Police were called at 11.40AM yesterday (Sunday) to reports of a man in the River Wharfe, apparently having fallen from the cliffs above. A Segway-style vehicle was recovered. He was pronounced dead at the scene. At this time we do not believe the death to be suspicious."
Heselden was worth around $265 million and ranked 395th on the Sunday Times Rich List. Most of his fortune came as the result of his defense company Hesco Bastion. In 1990, he invented a new concertina-style design for wire cage walls, called the Concertainer. Originally designed to help prevent land erosion. However, the designed was adapted for military use.

Although wealthy, he was also generous. An ex-miner, he always remembered his poor beginnings. Two years ago, he founded the Leeds Community Foundation in his home city with a £10million donation, which he followed with a £3million donation in 2009 and another £10million last week.

In a statement, Hesco Bastion said:
"It is with great sadness that we have to confirm that Jimi Heselden OBE has died in a tragic accident near his home in West Yorkshire. Jimi was chairman of Hesco Bastion Ltd, the world leading manufacturer of protective barriers, and owner of Segway Inc.

"Jimi is perhaps best known for his charity work with Help for Heroes and the Leeds Community Foundation. A £10m gift to the foundation earlier this month saw his lifetime charitable donations top £23m. Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends, who have asked for privacy at this time."
The Segway is a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle invented by Dean Kamen. It was first unveiled on December 3, 2001.

Users lean forward to go forward, lean back to go backward, and turn by using a handlebar, leaning it left or right. Although once touted as revolutionary, it never achieved more than niche use, such as for postal service workers or security guards (or even police).

It did appear on the television show "Arrested Development," as the vehicle of choice for Gob Bluth. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak also owns one. However, it was also listed as one of Time's 50 Worst Inventions.

Watch a Segway video ad below:






Ig Nobel Award-winning gas mask bra now commercially available

One of the winners of the 2009 Ig Nobel awards which we covered last year is about to launch commercially. It's the Emergency Bra, AKA the Gas Mask Bra.

The bra, designed by Dr. Elena Bodnar. Her inspiration reportedly comes in part from having witnessed, as a young physician, the horrors of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986. During the 2009 Ig Nobel awards ceremony, she noted that her invention could have prevented people from breathing in Iodine-131 in the wake of the event.

Bodnar is introducing the now commercially available Emergency Bra at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Mass., on September 28. To be used, of course, the Emergency Bra must be removed, and then split into two gas masks that a woman could perhaps share with her significant other.

There has been some talk of a "counterpart device for men." We can only think of one potential item of clothing that might take the shape of a cup (ahem) for use as a gas mask, and we're not sure just how well that might sell.

The Emergency Bra is $29.99, and comes in red. As the official site says, you can both "Be Safe and Be Sexy" at the same time.

The Ig Nobel awards are given out by Improbable Research annually to those achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think."

You can watch Dr. Bodnar accept the 2009 Ig Nobel Award for Public Health for the Emergency Bra below.





No FaceTime for iPhone 4s in U.A.E., Qatar

Carriers in the U.A.E. and Qatar are finding out how China Unicom felt last year when trying to sell a "crippled" iPhone; Apple's latest version of its smartphone arrived in the U.A.E. and Qatar missing the FaceTime video calling feature.

Last year, the iPhone 3GS arrived in China minus wi-fi capability. This year's iPhone 4 launch didn't have any such issues. However, the iPhone 4s which just launched in the U.A.E. on carriers du and Etisalat and the carrier Vodafone in Qatar were all missing FaceTime.

Reportedly, there's been no government mandate on FaceTime in those countries (China made the call on the first batch of iPhone 3GS models, last year). Despite this, the feature is missing.

An anonymous senior executive with said Apple omitted FaceTime in the to avoid any "complications that might halt sales of the devices." He said,
“Apple is being over-cautious about this. The regulator has not told us anything and I think Apple is taking their own interpretation of the regulation of the UAE.”
The suggest from that comment is that Apple made the move unilaterally, without consulting either the carriers or the regulators. Things aren't going so well in Saudi Arabia, either. Reports are that with the 4.0.2 version of iOS on the iPhone 4, FaceTime works. Update to 4.1, and it vanishes.



Human trials of surgical suspended animation use to begin at MGH

It's not the stuff of science fiction, meaning the Hypersleep capsules seen in the Alien series, but it is actual suspended animation nonetheless. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) are set to begin human trials of a suspended animation surgical treatment, used to give doctors more time to perform operations.

Suspended animation is defined as the slowing of life processes by external means without termination. IN the case of the research being conducted by both Harvard Medical School and MGH, in Boston, extreme hypothermia will be induced in trauma patients so that their bodies basically shut down during major surgery. The suspended animation technique will help reduce any damage done to organs while a patient's heart is not beating, also reducing the need for anaesthetics and life support.

Dr Hasan Alam is leading the research at MGH. He said:
"If you drop the body's core temperature and brain temperature down to 15 degrees C or 10 degrees C you are talking about 60 minutes and even 190 minutes of protection. By cooling rapidly in this fashion we can convert almost certain death into a 90 per cent survival rate."
To cool patients, doctors will replace their blood with cold saline solution. Cooling the body so much can keep organ or brain death from occurring due to a lack of oxygen.

Additionally, because of the suspended animation effect, research so far has shown no ill effects on the brain from the procedure. Dr. John Elefteriades said,
"The body is essentially in real life suspended animation with no pulse, no blood pressure, no electrical waves in the brain. We didn't find any evidence of functional impairment after the surgery."
We're not talking about putting astronauts into suspended animation and sending them off to Alpha Centauri, but eventually, that may come to pass.