Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Amazon's EC2 service helps Wikileaks withstand DDoS attacks

DDoS Attack
Amazon.com has been touting the reliability of its cloud services. Wikileaks, swayed by the advertising and by the DDoS attacks it is experiencing, has begun using Amazon's "Elastic Cloud Computing" (EC2) service, and is experiencing much better uptime, reportedly.

Early on Tuesday, Wikileaks Tweeted that it was experiencing "another DDoS attack." Later, it added that the attack had reached 10 gigabits per second. According to a study by Internet security company Arbor Networks, the average DoS attack over the past year has been at about 349 megabits per second.

It's not a new development, in fact. Box Binary said that they noticed the Iraq war diaries, Wikileaks' prior release, were being hosted on Amazon EC2 servers, as well. In fact, the content of the actual "Cablegate" diplomatic cable leak is being hosted on both Amazon's EC2 servers and Octopuce servers in France.

Others have noted that Wikileaks is moving from smaller providers to larger ones, more likely to withstand a DDoS assault.

It's interesting, because until this new leak, not much was said about Amazon.com EC2 role in Wikileaks' leaks. Box Binary also said:
I thought it was a Big Deal – to me it seemed so odd, surely a mistake, to put this material not only on servers run by a US company, but physically on US soil – surely making it quite difficult to refute claims of illegality by the US authorities.

Windows Phone 7 expecting Windows Phone 8-sized Jan. update

Windows Phone
If this latest rumor comes to pass, Windows Phone 7 will get a massive update in January. According to Chris Walshie, who was part of the team that created Windows Phone 7's first jailbreaking tool, ChevronWP7, the update is so large is should have been called Windows Phone 8.

He also added that "MS took 3 months to do what Apple did in 3 years." By that, he is probably implying multitasking and copy-and-paste. Already, other rumored improvements to Microsoft's new smartphone platform include Bing turn-by-turn directions and improvements (really, though, you are still stuck with Bing ... it's Microsoft, after all) and custom ringer support.


Verizon's marketing campaign a little bit Droid X, a little bit iPhone, too

This is what happens when you let non-techies produce tech-related marketing campaigns, along with getting their hands on PhotoShop. This Verizon image sports a Droid X, one of Verizon's top-rated devices. Unfortunately, the ad also shows an image of the iOS version of Google Maps.

It's not something that's going to sit well with Verizon or Motorola, both of whom have spent much time lampooning the iPhone 4 and AT&T. It appears the image on Verizon's site has since been redoctored, at least.


It's Tuesday: Amazon.com, WalMart, Target, others continue Cyber Monday sales

It's Tuesday, and you'd expect Cyber Monday sales to be over. They aren't, at a number of big, high-discounting retailers.

Amazon.com is running its (originally stated to be) two-day Cyber Monday sale for the entire week. The Web page describing the sale now says Cyber Week instead of Cyber Monday. Amazon.com has been running some great deals during the holiday shopping season; don't forget that most items have free shipping and most states pay no sales tax.

Target has announced Target Tuesday, which basically means Cyber Tuesday. Its Cyber Monday-ish deals include a Polaroid 19" Class 720p 60hz LCD HDTV/DVD Combo - Black (TDAC-01933) and a VIZIO 19" Class 720p 60Hz LED LCD HDTV - Black (M190MV), both for $159 each. There are plenty of toys, home items and other electronics as well.

WalMart, as we said previously, has always planned to have a Cyber Week, instead of just a Cyber Monday.

Best Buy continues through Cyber Week as well, extending its Cyber Monday deals through Dec. 4. We haven't noted huge deals at Best Buy, but it's worth taking a look.

TigerDirect.com has announced Cyber Tuesday (we fully expect a Cyber Wednesday). Although lesser known than the others, TigerDirect is well known among techies for having great consumer electronics and computer deals.

If you are still looking for that hot deal, continue looking. Cyber Monday and Black Friday are likely to expand to the entire holiday season at this rate.


Google makes $6B bid for Groupon: report

Monday's rumor that Groupon had been acquired by Google for $3.5 billion was dismissed by Boomtown, not necessarily because of the deal itself, but because of the (low) price. On Tuesday, Boomtown, which was first with the original Groupon acquisition story, said sources told them Google has offered $5.3 billion for Groupon (plus a $700M earnout for performance).

That would make a Groupon acquisition the largest ever for Google, if completed. The "if completed" phrase is important, as the sources, close Sources said a deal for the deal-of-the day site isn't complete, though it might be completed as early as today. It is, of course, possible it still might fall apart.

In addition to Boomtown, the New York Times is also reporting a similar amount for the deal.

This also jives with Boomtown's original story. There they noted any price would be well above the $2 billion to $3 billion reportedly offered by Yahoo! $2.5 billion didn't qualify, but $6 billion in total certainly does.

Earlier this year, Yahoo! made an offer of $2 to $3 billion for Groupon, but was rejected. Reportedly, Google then offered Groupon $3 billion to $4 billion. Also, rebuffed, Google has come back with a bigger wallet.

As we've said before, Groupon would be great if (when) integrated into Google Places. It seems a natural fit. Google has been trying to enter the local advertising space, but has had mixed results.

It will be interesting to see what regulators have to say about any acquisition, assuming it reaches fruition.


Google Calendar (finally) adds Optional Attendees feature

Google continues to add more features to its Apps to close in on feature parity with Microsoft Office. It's latest addition is Optional Attendees in Google Calendar.

As announced in a blog post, all you have to do to make attendees optional is to click on the “Make some attendees optional" link above the guest list, and then toggle the role of each attendee by clicking the icon next to his or her name.

Of course, as with all things cloud, this will be rolling out gradually. It's already shown up in our calendar however, and we are often among the last (it seems) to get a new Google feature, so you might be seeing it already.


Microsoft examining possible TV service: report

Content providers haven't been too pleased with Google TV, with many of them blocking access from its service. We therefore have to wonder what will happen if this story comes to fruition: Microsoft has reportedly held talks with media companies to license their content for a new online pay-television subscription service to be viewed through devices such the Xbox 360.

The Reuters report cites two anonymous sources familiar with the plans. The report adds that any such plan is likely a year or more away. Here is an excerpt from the report:
The maker of the Windows operating system has proposed a range of possibilities in these early talks including creating a "virtual cable operator" delivered over the Internet for which users pay a monthly fee.

Other options include using the Xbox to authenticate existing cable subscribers to watch shows with enhanced interactivity similar to how pay TV operators have sought to do over the Web, said these people.

Microsoft is also exploring the possibility of creating content silos and selling more individual channels directly such as an HBO or Showtime. It already has Walt Disney Co's (DIS.N) ESPN on the XBox Live online service for example.
This and other plans like it are pushing more content to consumers via broadband. This is actually great in terms of competition, but it creates a problem if more ISPs continue to cap usage. Comcast, for example, has a rather generous cap of 250GB, but others have much smaller ones, and content providers and ISPs can't have it both ways.


Bike lock shinnies up poles to raise your bike out of thieves' range

In the quest to keep bicycles safe, here's a new idea. Instead of trying to create the invulnerable bicycle lock, how about having it shinny up whatever pole you attach it to instead, and out of harm's way?

A German company called Conrad had developed the ultimate bike lock. The making of video (below) shows how it works.

There are a few problems with the idea. For one, it certainly isn't the most portable of security devices. For another, we only hope no one, either because they don't notice your bike, or because they are complete a-holes, decides to hoist their bike up the pole beneath yours.


Playboy Cover to Cover external hard drive exposes 57 years of centerfolds

Playboy has unleashed 57 years of centerfolds on an external hard drive. The Playboy Cover to Cover hard drive has every issue from Dec. 1953 to Dec. 2009. Indeed, you'll be missing the issues from 2010, but hey, at least you can ditch all those silverfish-attracting (over 650) print editions.

The hard drive includes Bondi's magazine browsing software. It's a 250GB hard drive, and requires no AC adapter, just the USB 2.0 cable, to power it. At $300, it's about 6x more pricey than this similar this Seagate drive, priced at $50 at Amazon.com.

Of course, that's without all the NSFW images you can glory in with the Playboy hard drive. Of course, you can't really hide it if you decide to bring it to work: it has the Playboy logo clearly imprinted on top (though we suppose you could turn it over).


Smartphone owners not all that loyal: survey

Smartphone owners aren't the most loyal customers around, according to a survey just published by market research firm GfK. In fact, the survey found that just 25 percent of smartphone owners planned to buy the same smartphone platform system for their next phone.

As you might expect, iOS received the highest marks, with 59 percent of owners planning to stick with Apple's platform. 35 percent of RIM users said they would stick with the BlackBerry OS, 28 percent of Google's Android users said the same, and 24 percent of users of Nokia's Symbian OS would stay loyal. Microsoft's mobile software trailed at 21 percent, though it is unclear if Windows Phone users were included in the survey.

GfK conducted the survey with 2,653 mobile phone users in Brazil, Germany, Spain, Britain, the United States and China during October and November. Additionally, the survey found that of those with cell phones, not smartphones, 37 percent (excluding China, which was not surveyed for "logistical reasons") planned to upgrade to a smartphone on their next purchase.


Researchers discover what they call a partial 'Fountain-of-Youth'

Harvard researchers have developed what they believe is a partial fountain of youth. The treatment, done on mice, resulted in new growth in the brain, new growth of the testes (with naturally improved fertility), and the return of lost cognitive functions.

Scientists engineered mice with a controllable telomerase gene. Telomerase, an enzyme, maintains the protective caps called telomeres that shield the ends of chromosomes. Progressive erosion of the telomeres is believed to contribute to tissue degeneration in the elderly, and telomerase production drops as aging occurs.

Ronald A. DePinho, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) professor of genetics, said:
“We wanted to know: If you could flip the telomerase switch on and restore telomeres in animals with entrenched age-related disease, what would happen? Would it slow down aging, stabilize it, or even reverse it?

“It [the treatment] was akin to a Ponce de León effect. When we flipped the telomerase switch on and looked a month later, the brains had largely returned to normal.

"One of the most amazing changes was in the animals’ testes, which were essentially barren as aging caused the death and elimination of sperm cells. When we restored telomerase, the testes produced new sperm cells, and the animals’ fecundity was improved — their mates gave birth to larger litters.”
The mice had been engineered to age prematurely. With the treatment, they lived longer than untreated counterparts, although no longer than normal mice.

CA PC Tune-Up 3.0
Of concern, of course, is possible implications of this treatment with regard to cancer. Cancer cells turn on telomerase to make themselves "virtually immortal." However, the mice reportedly showed no signs of developing cancer.

Naturally, this is not a human trial, and no indication of any sort of upcoming trial was given in the study report. The report was issued in the online version of Nature, ahead of print publication.


Celebrities to logoff social networks in support of World AIDS Day

Wednesday, Dec. 1st, is World AIDS Day, and several celebrities are going to digitally die, in the name of promoting the day. Those celebrities, including Alicia Keys, Usher, Lady Gaga, and Justin Timberlake will log off of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook until a donation milestone of $1 million is reached on behalf of Keys' charity, Keep a Child Alive.

Among other celebrities dying for the cause are Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Elijah Wood, Serena Williams, Janelle Monae and Keys' husband, Swizz Beatz. The campaign is called Digital Life Sacrifice, and celebrities will appear in ads showing them lying in coffins to represent what the campaign calls their "digital deaths." Many have filmed "last Tweet and testament," as well.

One can see that the sacrifice is possibly less for the celebrities and more for their fans, who may face withdrawal symptoms until the $1 million milestone is reached. Not one celebrity turned down a plea for participation, according to Keys, although she admitted it was not that easy to contact some of them.

Leigh Blake, the president and co-founder of Keep a Child Alive said, "I have a feeling that Gaga is going to raise it all by herself." Lady Gaga has about 24 million fans on Facebook, and more than 7.2 million followers on Twitter.

Keys, who has more than 2.6 million followers on Twitter herself, said, "It's so important to shock you to the point of waking up. It's not that people don't care or it's not that people don't want to do something, it's that they never thought of it quite like that. This [the campaign] is such a direct and instantly emotional way and a little sarcastic, you know, of a way to get people to pay attention."


Monday, November 29, 2010

Microsoft seeks to patent touchscreen that can touch back

The touchscreen is de rigueur for smartphones nowadays. Going further, however, this week, Microsoft filed a patent application for a touchscreen that touches back.

Microsoft proposes a screen that can produce an actual texture, with pixel-sized shape-memory plastic cells that will protrude from the surface of the touchscreen on command. Users could then actually feel the texture of an image on the screen.

The patent application, named "Light-Induced Shape-Memory Polymer Display Screen," says that the idea is aimed toward large table-sized computing displays such as Microsoft’s Surface. According to the patent application, a layer of shape-memory plastic is placed above the touchscreen. When different wavelengths of ultraviolet light strike the pixels from beneath, the surface distorts.

While targeting table-sized devices, Patrick Baudisch, a display interaction expert at the University of Potsdam in Germany, who worked on the Surface in its early days, said in an interview with New Scientist, believes that this technology could, if applied to smaller devices, solve the problems with on-screen keyboards.
"Creating well-defined bumps on a touch surface is in many ways the holy grail of text entry on touch devices because it would enable touch typing at much faster speeds than on touchscreens today. There would be no more reason for mobile keypads – they would simply be emulated when necessary. That could effect massive change in this field."

'This isn't Starcraft': South Korean Defense Minister

It's well known that Korea has an obsession with Starcraft, and a South Korean government official using it as a sort of metaphor therefore makes sense. When questioned by a fellow politician about the South's 13 minute delay in retaliating against the North last week, South Korean defense minister Kim Tae-young replied, "This isn't StarCraft."

Last week North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at a South Korean island. The response from South Korea was delayed and deemed insufficient, by many.

What Kim said was not meant to be a joke, but an indication that, unlike Starcraft, real-world events take time to unfold, and a military response isn't something that happens in seconds, particularly in "peacetime."

Eventually, Kim resigned. In his letter of resignation, he took full responsibility for the response, or lack thereof, to the North Korean attack.


On Black Friday, iPad outsells Macs: analyst report

Apple's iPad outsold its Macs on Black Friday, according to a report by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. Per store, Apple sold about 8.8 iPads per hour on Black Friday vs. 8.2 Macs per hour.

Munster and team spent 7 hours in Apple Stores on Black Friday, the biggest retail shopping day of the year. The Mac sales are flat, but Munster believes its too early to make a judgment on Mac sales. On the iPad, he said,
"We noticed that the iPad his gaining traction (driven by lower price vs. the Mac) among demographics in which the Mac has historically not been successful. The bottom line is that Apple's addressable market is expanding with the iPad, and as a result, we believe the potential for upside from the iPad increases over the next 12 months."
Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore surveyed more than 150 stores over the Black Friday weekend. Two-thirds of those were Apple retail stores, with the rest consisting of more than 50 AT&T, Verizon, Best Buy, Walmart and Target stores. Whitmore stated that employees at Apple stores were saying that the 11-inch MacBook Air has been popular, a "customer favorite." They added that the 11-inch MBA has been "flying off the shelves."

In either case, both reports lead to one conclusion: Apple is going to have a heck of a quarter.


Accessories the focus of Apple's Cyber Monday deals

If you are looking for the best Cyber Monday deals of 2010, Apple is not the place to go. The Cupertino, CA-based company has announced its Cyber Monday deals, and they've shifted the focus away from big ticket items to accessories for its products.

The discount seems to be around 10 percent. For example, looking at audio accessories, Beats' Beatbox speaker dock drops from $400 to $360, while its Solo HD headphones drop down from $200 to $180. M-Audio's KeyStudio 49 MIDI keyboard has also been discounted from $100 to $70, and Edifier's Prisma E3350 speakers have had their price lowered to $117.

Cases are on sale as well. The Michael Kors iPad Case sees (again) a 10 percent discount from $130 to $117, and the Michael Kors Wallet Clutch (iPhone) drops from $80 to $72.

Other add-ons receiving a discount include G-Technology's 320GB G-Drive Slim falling to $90 from $100 and Panasonic's HM-TA1 pocket camcorder dropping $17 to $153 from $170. Once again, there's that 10 percent again.

Online shoppers should remember to visit sites such as Mr. Rebates and Ebates, where they can often get a discount by clicking through to a particular retailer's site. For example, Apple buyers can receive a 1 percent rebate at both sites. Other sites may reward you with a much higher percentage (some in the 20 percent range); generally such rebate sites have different percentages for a particular store so its good to check more than one.


Groupon acquired by Google for $2.5 billion?

Rumors have been flying hot-and-heavy about a possible Google acquisition of Groupon for over a week now. The latest rumor is that the deal is done, for a reported $2.5 billion.

Vator News says its source is reliable. At the same time, BoomTown, which was first to report the talks, said that its sources say that any such deal would be upwards of $3 billion. Yahoo! failed to negotiate an acquisition of Groupon for somewhere between $2 to $3 billion earlier this year.

Groupon is a deal-of-the-day website, localized to major markets in the United States and Canada. It serves up one deal each day for each market, usually different, although it has done nationwide Groupons, as well. If enough people sign up, the Groupon is valid. Otherwise, the deal falls through.

Groupon reportedly has revenues of more than $50 million monthly and there are copycats sprouting like weeds. As we said earlier, an acquisition of Groupon makes a lot of sense for Google, as one could imagine how well it would merge with Google Places. Of course, there is no official announcement, as of yet.


How a retailer used negative Web chatter to game Google's system

Most expect that negative stains on our cyber-reputation can never be erased. For some, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as is evidenced by a long, interesting article in the New York Times.

The article, A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web, describes how a company discovered that negative feedback was as good as positive feedback, and used that to game the "Google system." The more "online chatter" about the site, even "furious online chatter," pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales for the company.

Because of that, we're actually not going to mention either the name of the company or the owner in this article. Why should we help him further?

You can read the full New York Times article for the gory details, including which store to avoid. The details are gory indeed. The amount of bullying is such that it makes one blanch: threats against customers, including threats of physical violence, evidence that the business owner went so far as to impersonate the consumer and cancel a chargeback the customer central to the story had issued against his site, and more.

Still, all this is horrific, but does point to using a site like ResellerRatings.com if you've never heard of a site. There you can see complaints about a particular site, if any.

More interesting is the fact that Google seems unable to sift through the negative links to a site when figuring out how to rank it in search results. While a Google spokesman interviewed by the NYT quite naturally wouldn't reveal how its ranking algorithm works, he did say:
A crucial factor in Google search results, the spokesman explained, is the number of links from respected and substantial Web sites. The more links that a site has from big and well-regarded sites, the better its chances of turning up high in a search
Obviously, a site like Reseller Ratings or Get Satisfaction, another such site, would be well respected, and thus help, not hinder, even if comments are negative.

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Search Engine Land goes into a detailed analysis of what's happening,
and possible fixes, such as including review ranking in general search results (they are already included in Google Shopping searches).

At the same time, will Google fix this issue? Others raked over the coals in the article include Citibank, which seemed to have little interest in helping the customer recover her money. It was also far too easy for the store to re-open accounts with Citibank so as to accept credit cards.

There's plenty of blame to go around, including Google, the bank, and certainly the owner of the site. He once sent a photograph of his middle finger to Get Satisfaction, the ratings site we mentioned above.


NoMute restores the iPad orientation lock in iOS 4.2.1 (if you're jailbroken)

Much to the chagrin of many who became used to it, Apple chose to change the iPad hardware orientation lock switch into a mute switch in iOS 4.2.1. While that made the iPad consistent with other iDevices, quite a few were annoyed at the change.

Unlimited Online Backup Only $4.95Thus, another reason to jailbreak your iPad. The NoMute app is available for free in the Cydia Store for jailbreakers.

Those who lamented the loss of the iPad orientation lock switched pointed to the fact that unlike a phone, there's little reason to need to mute the iPad swiftly. With the change in iOS 4.2.1, you now must double-click the Home button, swipe the multitasking bar to the right, then tap an onscreen button.

To jailbreak your iPad, you can follow the instructions here.

Meanwhile, we can all still hope for an official Apple change in stance, and that iOS 4.3 might change the mute switch back to an orientation switch. It should be noted that reports are that the NoMute app is a bit buggy, and that some apps saw their orientation lock, but also were muted at the same time.


Verizon's LTE ads promise December rollout, but where are the handsets?

Verizon's just launched an ad that advertises its upcoming 4G LTE network, which it says is arriving in December. Of course, the company won't even have handsets that support the network until Q1 2011, so it's not going to do much good for most.

New iPad Accessories ArrivalsThe ad, below, says,
Lightning fast. Lightning strong. Verizon 4G LTE. Rule the air on the most advanced 4G network in the world.
Of course, the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) definition of 4G means that LTE (Verizon), WiMax (Sprint), and HSPA+ (T-Mobile) all fail the 4G test. That hasn't stopped any of them from claiming their technology is 4G.

T-Mobile, in fact, only recently started calling its HSPA+ network. Really, it's 3.5G, and not as fast as LTE or WiMax. It is, however, faster than 3G, and that is all most consumers will care about.

AT&T's network has also been upgraded to HSPA+. AT&T is not claiming that its upgrade is 4G, though.

In terms of coverage, all are in a relative limited number of markets. Verizon has promised LTE in 38 markets by the end of 2010, with 110 million potential customers However, it's expected to only offer wireless data cards for laptops until next year.

Meanwhile, AT&T's HSPA+ network will reach 250 million customers by the end of this year, available everywhere its current 3G service is available. AT&T expects to test its own brand of LTE next year.

T-Mobile will be in 100 markets with HSPA+ by the end of 2010, the company has said, available to more than 200 million potential customers. Sprint, via Clearwire is in more than 55 markets with WiMax today and it has a goal of reaching 120 million potential customers by the end of 2010.


Online Black Friday 2010 sales leap 16 percent from 2009

As Cyber Monday 2010 deals begin rolling out, so does the data on Black Friday. Online retailers saw a 16 percent rise year over year, according to market research firm CoreMetrics, leading retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, to hope for a profitable holiday season.

Average Black Friday orders rose 12 percent from $170.19 in 2009 to $190.80. That, plus additional shoppers, fueled the Black Friday online sales rise.

At the same time, Thanksgiving online shopping saw a 33 percent increase, CoreMetrics said.

Mobile shopping via smartphones saw a 5.5x spike from last year, though it is still a small percentage of shopping. Coremetrics said about 5.6 percent of Black Friday shoppers went online using a mobile device. That compares with less than 1 percent in 2009.

John Squire, Coremetrics vice president of strategy said, "The season's off to a great start. It really shows really strong consumer sentiment for buying and for going online."

America's contribution to the global economy remains consumerism. In order for a global recovery to continue, much less a U.S. recover, consumers must buy.

Black Friday isn't as big for online retailers as Cyber Monday (or as some are calling it, Cyber Sunday). Cyber Monday, the first business day after Thanksgiving, was at one time the first day in which many consumers would have broadband access. That has changed in the last few years, as has the idea of Black Friday, which some have turned into Black Friday Week or even Black Friday Month.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileaks 'The Embassy Files' expose diplomacy's backdoor dealings

Although the Wikileaks website itself finds itself under a DDoS attack ahead of its release of 251,287 diplomatic cables later today, the media sites it has leaked previews of the documents to are already publishing excerpts. The cables provide a glimpse into the backdoor dealings of officials at some 270 embassies and consulates and the U.S. State Department.

At the same time, while some are revealing excerpts and details from some of the documents, the Guardian has created a browseable database of the cables. Readers can mouse over the map on their page to find stories and original documents by country, subject or people.

The New York Times, and others highlight several revelations among the documents. Among them:
1) China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. (That was the incident that led to Google temporarily leaving China.)

2) Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.

3) American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode.

4) When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.”

5) Saudi Arabian donors remain the chief backers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda. As well the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a "generous host" to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable from Decembmer 2009.

6) [...] an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between.

7) Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

8) Clashes with Europe over human rights. Specifically, these incidents over such violations include an example from 2007 in which the CIA mistakenly kidnapped an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant and held him for months in Afghanistan.
The NYT also notes that the cable show how diplomacy is now crossing the line into espionage. The cables go back to 2008.
The cables give a laundry list of instructions for how State Department employees can fulfill the demands of a “National Humint Collection Directive” in specific countries. (“Humint” is spy-world jargon for human intelligence collection.) One cable asks officers overseas to gather information about “office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cellphones, pagers and faxes,” as well as “internet and intranet ‘handles’, internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent-flier account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.”
Of the 250,000+ documents, many are unclassified, and none are marked “top secret,” although some 11,000 are classified “secret.” In addition, some 9,000 are labeled “noforn,” which means "no foreign," material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government. 4,000 documents carry both secret and noforn designations.


Wikileaks website under DDos attack

As the latest Wikileaks release approaches, scheduled for 1:30 PM PT, the site reports that it is under a DDoS (dedicated denial of service attack). We can confirm that at the time of this writing the site is unreachable.

A DDoS attack works by flooding a Web server with false requests for information. A distributed attack is one that occurs from multiple systems, distributing the "workload," so to speak.

Wikileaks itself first acknowledged the DDoS attack via Twitter. Although first reported to be withstanding the attack, as we said, the site is currently unreachable.

To be honest, the attack really serves little purpose. El Pais, Le Monde, Der Speigel, Guardian and the New York Times will all publish excerpts from the latest leak, dubbed "The Embassy Files," at 1:30 PM PT. The latest release is a set of over 250,000 diplomatic cables.


Best Buy Cyber Monday 2010 deals somewhat tepid; two-day event goes live

The two-day Best Buy Cyber Monday sale has gone live. You can access the sale here.

This holiday season, Best Buy's Black Friday sale was pretty much acknowledged to be tepid or lukewarm by many. Will the Best Buy Cyber Monday sale prove better?

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The categories for the Best Buy Cyber Monday sale are:

Televisions - Among the Best Buy Cyber Monday TV deals are:

Mitsubishi - Home Cinema / 60" Class / 1080p / 60Hz / 3D DLP HDTV, Model: WD-60638, Reg. Price: $999.99, You Save: $400.00, Sale: $599.99. That's $100 less than Amazon.com, which is selling that same model via Target.com.

Mitsubishi - Home Cinema / 65" Class / 1080p / 60Hz / 3D DLP HDTV, Model: WD-65638, Reg. Price: $1,299.99, You Save: $500.00, Sale: $799.99.

LG - 32" Class / 1080p / 120Hz / LED-LCD HDTV, Model: 32LE5400, Reg. Price: $899.99, You Save: $300, Sale: $599.99.

Computers - Among the Best Buy Cyber Monday computer deals are:

Seagate - Expansion 1TB External USB 2.0 Desktop Hard Drive - Black, Model: ST310005EXA101-RK. Reg. Price: $89.99, You Save: $40, Sale: Sale: $49.99. Currently this model is $79.99 at Amazon.com. However, at Amazon.com you can buy the 2TB model for only $10 more, $89.99. It should be noted that the Amazon.com ratings for both models are mediocre, at best.

Samsung - Netbook / Intel® Atom™ Processor / 10.1" Display / 1GB Memory / 250GB Hard Drive - Red/Black, Model: N150-JPB2, Reg. Price: $279.99, You Save: $30, Sale: $249.99. This is the only netbook listed among the Best Buy Cyber Monday deals.

Dell - Inspiron Laptop / Intel Pentium Processor / 15.6" Display / 3GB Memory / 320GB Hard Drive - 3D Black, Model: I1570-4411OBK, Reg. Price: $479.99, You Save, $100, Sale: $379.99. This is the only laptop listed among the Best Buy Cyber Monday deals.

Based on that much research, these Best Buy Cyber Monday deals aren't all that compelling, falling in line with the company's Black Friday 2010 sale.

Other categories include:
  • Home Theater
  • iPod and MP3 Players
  • Video Games and Gadgets
  • Car and GPS
  • Cameras and Camcorders
  • Mobile Phones
  • Stands, Mounts and Accessories
  • Music and Musical Instruments
  • Home amd Appliances
  • Movies
Take a look at them, but we recommend you take a look at the WalMart and Amazon.com Cyber Monday deals as well. Don't forget, also, that Amazon.com has no sales tax in many states.


Amazon.com's two-day Cyber Monday 2010 sale goes live

Amazon.com's Cyber Monday sale has begun, as we expected (and as many are doing) a day early. What many consider the top online retailer has launched its Cyber Monday deals page, and sent out a press release, to boot.

The press release shows how important Cyber Monday has become to online retailers, not just Amazon.com. The site's Cyber Monday deals really just continue the Black Friday deals it had already been running. They will range from limited-time Lightning Deals to a doorbuster-style Deal of the Day. The best part for customers in high sales tax states is that for many, there is no sales tax, and there will, of course, be free shipping through Amazon Prime and free Super Saver Shipping.

Amazon.com's Cyber Monday deals will include the following, and far, far more. Deals will naturally continue to change, so consumers need to continue checking their Cyber Monday deals page:
  • VIZIO 47-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV: $599 (list price: $998)
  • Panasonic S50 Camcorder: $149 (list price: $229)
  • Nokia N8 Touchscreen Phone: $429 (list price: $549)
  • BlackBerry phones from all carriers starting at $.01 at AmazonWireless (with a new contract, includes waived activation fee)
  • TomTom XXL 5-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator: $89.99 (list price: $229)
  • Free Move game with purchase of PlayStation Move Starter Bundle
  • Fallout: New Vegas: $39.99 (list price: $59.99)
  • iHome Portable Stereo Alarm Clock for iPod and iPhone: $49.99 (list price: $119.99)
  • Save 30% - 50% on select Fisher-Price toys
  • Save 30% on select Air Hogs
  • Save up to 50% on select games from Hasbro, ThinkFun, University Games, Mindware and more
  • Spend $75, Get 25% Off or Spend $150, Get 30% Off Shoes (restrictions apply)
  • Save 60% on Women's, Men's and Kids' outerwear
  • White Gold Diamond Floating Heart Pendant: $209.00 (list price: $559)
  • Swiss Legend Men's Commander Collection Watch (select styles): $49.99 (list price: $595)
  • "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" Hardcover Boxed Set: $45 (list price: $89.99)
  • "Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series" (DVD): $23.99 (list price: $79.98)
  • M*A*S*H: Complete Collection (DVD): $69.99 (list price: $199.98)
  • "The Fame Monster" by Lady Gaga (MP3 Download): $1.99
  • "This Is Happening" by LCD Soundsystem (MP3 Download): $1.99
  • Racor InterChange 23-Piece WallDocking Kit: $49.99 (list price: $143.75)
  • Scanpan Classic Ceramic Titanium 11-Piece Chef's Cookware Set: $389.99 (list price: $1038)
Much as with Black Friday deals, many of these will sell out fast. However, you can expect Amazon.com and other retailers to continue deals through the holiday shopping season.


WalMart Cyber Monday deals to extend throughout the week, starting Sunday

Many online retailers, and retailers with online adjuncts, are launching Cyber Monday today, and running them for two days. Walmart is going further: the WalMart Cyber Monday deals are set to last an entire week.

WalMart's Cyber Monday deals are being called Cyber Week. Check their Cyber Week page, and you'll see that the WalMart Cyber Monday deals are categorized into Electronics, Toys and Video Games, Home, and the rather vague Other Online Specials.

Electronics is probably the first place shoppers looking for WalMart Cyber Monday deals will go. Among the deals today (WalMart says they will change throughout the week) are:
  • eMachines Black 15.6" eME528-2012 Laptop PC with Carrying Case & USB Flash Drive Bundle - $378.00
  • HP 15.6" G56-129WM Laptop PC with Carrying Case, USB Flash Drive & HP Multi-Function Printer Bundle - $448.00
  • Apple iPod Touch 8GB (Newest Model) Bundle with Accessory Kit - $210.00
  • Panasonic 50" Class Plasma 1080p 600Hz HDTV, TC-P50S2 - $848.00
Additionally, there are plenty of HDTVs on sale, though many are no-name brands.

Among the Toys and Video Games WalMart Cyber Monday deals:
  • Playstation 3 Entertainment Value Bundle - $388.00
  • Buy 2 Get 1 Free - PlayStation 3 / Nintendo Wii / Xbox 360 Game Bundle - $39.00
  • Radio Flyer Grow N' Go Flyer - $35.00
  • Halo Reach w/ Limited Edition Controller (Xbox 360) - $89.00
Among the Home WalMart Cyber Monday deals:
  • Hamilton Beach 6-Speed Classic Stand Mixer and 12-Piece BakerEze Bakeware Value Bundle - $49.00
  • Tassimo T20 Single Serve Beverage System by Bosch with Bonus $20 eGiftcard - $99.00
  • Bissell Steam Mop with Bonus Replacement Pads - $79.00
The WalMart Cyber Monday deals in the Other Online Specials category includes a variety of items, including electric razors, a telescope, jewelry, and things you might expect in the Home category: doormats and throws.

Vitamin World
You've got a whole Cyber Week at WalMart, so pull up a mouse and take a look. Remember, however, that unlike Amazon.com and TigerDirect.com, WalMart generally has sales tax, so shoppers in high tax states like California should take a look at those two places also.

For example, the Panasonic TC-P50S2 HDTV listed above is $912.89 at Amazon.com. That works out to be cheaper for Californians when sales tax is included. It's not a huge difference, but it could add up if you are buying a number of items.


Sony Google TV price cuts appear just Black Friday-ish ... at least for now

TechCrunch is wondering if the 25 percent price drop of Sony's Blu-ray / Google TV set top box is a sign that Google TV is already failing. There's only one problem with the theory: the SonyStyle site says the special price is only good through Nov. 29. Sounds awfully like a Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale to us.

TechCrunch notes that:
It’s strange then to see the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Disc Player’s price already cut by a whopping $100 bringing it down to $299. This doesn’t smell like a Black Friday sort of deal, either. No, the price cut is everywhere from Best Buy to even the unit’s product page.
That's true, except that if you go to this page, it says the price is only through Nov. 29.

PCMag, on the other hand, seems to have spoken directly to Sony. They say:
The 46-inch, Google TV-enabled Sony TV is now $1,199 - a $200 savings. The 40-inch set is available for $898, and the Blu-ray player with Google TV is $299, both a $100 discount.

The deals run until November 29, and are available at sonystyle.com, Sony Style stores, Best Buy, and other select dealers.
Once again, it's a Black Friday weekend sale. However, that's not to say that Google TV isn't in trouble.

Considering how many content owners are blocking access to Google TV, it doesn't have enough content selection to truly be worth it. Additionally, the lack of apps (which are coming) is a negative as well.

If anyone remembers what killed HD-DVD, it was lack of content. If Google TV is to succeed, it needs to have more content.

However, unless these prices continue after Nov. 29, it's not a case of Sony throwing up its hands and slashing prices to move inventory. It's just a Black Friday weekend deal. We'll see, on Nov. 30.


UV monitoring iPhone app created to address Australian skin cancer concerns

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Thus, to help with that concern, there's an app for that.

iTunes & App Store
A free iPhone application, SunSmart, has been created by the organization Cancer Council Australia. Australia sees more than 1,850 people die of skin cancer annually, which is more than the number killed in road accidents. Additionally, two out of every three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.

SunSmart Manager, Sue Heward said
"We have developed the app to provide people right across Australia with free, easy-to-access information about ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels, making it easier than ever for everyone to build sun protection into their daily routines. Whilst lots of people love the outdoors the UV levels are likely to reach extreme levels over the next few months, so people need to know when to use sun protection."
The app uses GPS to forecast and sdjust to the ene users location, determining how much UV radiation he is likely to experience. It also provides a weather forecast and handy tip to sunbathers.

The site has also developed a widget that can be added to any website, for the same purpose as the iPhone app.