Thursday, June 30, 2011

Apple or will either blink?

Apple's new app store policies around subscriptions and buying tangible goods via in-app purchasing are set to go into effect after today. With that, who is going to blink first: (and others, like Barnes and Noble), or Apple?

Apple has backed off some of its original demands for such purchases. Originally, apps that sold anything substantive outside the app, like say a subscription to Hulu Plus, were required to offer the same purchase in-app, with a price less than or equal to the outside price. Since anything purchased via the normal in-app purchasing APIs in iOS meant that Apple would get a 30 percent cut ---- well, you can see the reasoning Apple had behind the move.

However, some apps, like, worked around that by redirecting users to Safari and having them go to a site where they could make purchases. Good idea? It was, but it was banned.

Apple made changes to these policies earlier this month. The modifications said that in-app pricing could be set by the publisher. That means that a publisher could make up for Apple's cut by raising in-app prices by 30 percent, if it wanted to.

However, one important ban still remained: no links to external sites in-app. That means that's main app, and its Kindle app, as well as Barnes and Noble's app, would all be in violation, if unchanged.

Just last week, Hulu Plus became the highest profile app to comply with the changes, removing its link to subscribe to the Hulu Plus service.

For now, the, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble apps are still in the App Store. They haven't been updated for a while, which means they don't conform to Apple's requirements.  Tomorrow morning, will they still be there?

Amazon Appstore's free app of the day, 6/30/2011: Doodle Fit has promised to make a paid app free every day in the Amazon Appstore, and today's app is Doodle Fit.

Doodle Fit is priced at $0.99 in the Android Market. Meanwhile, it is normally priced at $0.99 in the Amazon Appstore. As we noted previously, prices sometimes differ between the two stores.

Doodle Fit is described as follows:
At first, the object of Doodle Fit seems simple enough. For each level, you must place a set of differently shaped blocks into a given shape. You drag blocks in and out of the shape in search for the layout that covers the whole shape. You cannot flip the blocks around as you do in Tetris, however. A level is complete when all blocks have been used and there's no more free space in the shape.

Make It Fit
The first few levels are relatively simple and are designed to get you used to the game's concept and controls. Doodle Fit eventually evolves into a maddening game of geometric logic. Once you unlock the higher levels, get ready for hours of brain-frying puzzlers as you try to fit those darn blocks into increasingly complex shapes.

Get a Clue
If you're at your wits' end, you can raise the white flag and get a hint. When you solve two levels, you're allotted one hint. Because of the limited amount of hints, be sure to use a hint only if you're totally stuck. And no, you can't use a crowbar to cram those blocks in.

Hours of Puzzling Pleasure
Challenge yourself with more than 100 levels involving unique shapes. Many of the puzzles actually have more than one solution; there are almost 250 solutions in total. Doodle Fit features doodle-style graphics with two themes: notebook and chalkboard. Keep track of your stats, including levels solved, solutions found, games played, and time spent. Save up to five profiles so you can compare scores with your fellow Doodle Fit engineers. A cheerful 32-bit melody accompanies the puzzles.
Doodle Fit has a 4.5-star rating in the Android Market, and 4.5-stars in the Amazon Appstore. It's a consensus, which is unusual between the two marketplaces. There is also a free version, which is ad-supported and has 4 stars in the Android Market. opened up the Appstore despite a lawsuit by Apple, which has previously trademarked the term "App Store." Microsoft has filed an appeal against that trademark, saying the term is too generic. has responded to the lawsuit in the same manner.

iPhone 3GS to be free on contract after iPhone 5 release: analyst

The confusing mish-mash of rumors that center on the next-generation iPhone continues to get more complicated. Earlier, it was said that Apple would launch both a cheaper and pre-paid iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 this September. Now, an analyst believes that Apple may make the iPhone 3GS free with a service agreement when the next-generation iPhone launches.

The information came in an investor note by RBC Capital Markets General Manager Mike Abramsky. Abramsky claims Apple is expected to finally offer a free iPhone (once again, on contract, so hardly free). The idea, much like the iPhone 4S rumor, would be to engage mid-market smartphone buyers and slow the momentum of Android.

Of course, the iPhone 3GS lacks the iPhone 4's FaceTime camera, and obviously the next-generation iPhone would have FaceTime support, as well, although perhaps not the lower-spec iPhone 4S (if in fact it comes to fruition).

Abramsky predicts a doubling Apple’s global addressable market to 150 million smartphones. If Apple were to combine this with an iPhone 4S, what might be wrought? Abramsky currently has an Outperform rating on Apple stock with a price target of $450. Apple stock closed on Wednesday at $334.04.

This might be great for AT&T, but would suck for Verizon. Apple has no CDMA iPhone 3GS, which means Verizon would be left out in the cold with this sort of deal. The iPhone 3GS, at least with current iOS builds, is perfectly capable of running the OS well, despite an outdated processor and lower RAM.

That could push Verizon back to the Android smartphones that kept it going until the iPhone was available on its CDMA network. Of course, anyone watching Verizon's releases can't have missed the large number of Android devices it keeps pumping out, even without an additional reason to push them.

Viral UFO videos seem to show more CGI than unidentified flying objects

A set of viral YouTube videos purport to show a set of UFOs and a mothership flying above London, but most believe the videos to have been the result of --- not actual unidentified flying objects --- but the good use of CGI (computer-generated imagery).

The videos, embedded below, seem to show both a mother ship and smaller ships flying over London. Two of them were posted to Google's popular YouTube video sharing site, and both have gone viral.

TiVo Premiere - Free ShippingThe videos show a large glowing white oval moving in and out of cloud cover, with three white dots seeming to move in concert with the large one. After a time, the UFOs all zoom off.

There are some that believe the videos to be viral marketing campaign for the upcoming movie "Iron Sky." That movie isn't scheduled to be released until 2012, however. On the other hand, it's also supposed to be a Finnish sci-fi comedy film, doesn't have any big name Hollywood actors in it, and thus might be good for a viral campaign, even this early.

As far as the videos themselves, one UFO "expert" (or at least, expert debunker), Benjamin Radford, who is deputy editor of the "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," chimed in. With regards to the first video below, he notes that the way the video begins is a good sign it's fake:
The cameraman is apparently randomly videotaping a mundane sidewalk, and then moves quickly to a street corner, where he takes careful note of the reactions from passerby before aiming the camera up into the sky to see what, exactly, it is that has so captivated their attention. He videotapes the skies for about a minute, then once again brings the camera down to show us a small crowd of people who are also staring into the sky and getting photos.

This is highly suspicious behavior for someone who truly believes that there are alien spacecraft in the skies above that could reappear at any moment. If you spotted what you believed to be a UFO that could zip away at any moment, wouldn't training your camera on the spaceship be the first thing you would do? Whoever created, edited, and posted the video clearly wanted to make sure that viewers knew that others had seen, and were reacting to, the lights.
That's conjecture though, and would be labeled as "circumstantial evidence" in a court of law. Meanwhile, another person examined the videos themselves. Commenting in his own video (see the final video below), BCroyVideo said:
Trying to match special effects to jiggly video is very hard to do... that is why it is easy to tell that this footage of a UFO over London has been faked. Image stabilization software moves the whole picture around in order to try and keep the background steady. What you will notice is that the UFO "jiggles" differently than the clouds next to it. Also why do some clouds block the UFO but parts of the same cloud appear behind it? Come on... let's quit posting this fake crap.
Judge for yourself. Check out the first two videos below to see if you think they are real, or CGI. Then take a look at BCroyVideo's debunking example.

Catholics all a'Twitter as the Pope Tweets for the first time

The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI have embraced social networking as a way to connect with youth, and on Tuesday, the Pope Tweeted for the first time.

The Tweet said,
"Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI."
To be clear, the Pope didn't write the Tweet himself, but he did "send" the Tweet. The Tweet was sent from an iPad using Twitter's iPad app. - Rent or Buy textbooksReportedly, the Vatican's English Twitter account added about 22,000 new followers after the Pope's Tweet.

Despite the Vatican's forays into social networking, in 2009 the Pope also warned about social networking's possible dangers. He said,
"It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop online friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation.

If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development."
It's pretty interesting that you can actually watch them coaching the Pope to hit "send" in the video below.

Angry Birds finally arrives on Windows Phone, but at $2.99?

Angry Birds has finally alit onto Windows Phone. While we're not sure if any feathers are ruffled over this, the app is over a month late from its original launch date, May 25. - View Photos of Singles FreeIt's been a rocky road to get to here. In fact, the story began when Microsoft displayed an Angry Birds icon on the Windows Phone site, before Rovio had even confirmed it would come to the platform. Rovio was not happy.

Still, Rovio eventually decided Windows Phone had enough traction to warrant an Angry Birds version. But then, the app was delayed, with Microsoft first announcing the hit game would arrive on May 25, but seeing it delayed over a month. Nowadays, it's almost a requirement that Angry Birds be on a platform.

However, the Windows Phone 7 price for Angry Birds might make some buyers "angry." It's $2.99, which is a serious bump over free (ad-supported) in the Android Market and 99 cents in the App Store (there is also a 99 cent version for Android).

Early this month, Rovio announced a partnership with Roku that bring Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, and Angry Birds Rio to Roku's Channel Store. The games will be launching later this summer.

Lulzsec's last ever data dump includes malware

LulzSec's last set of "booty" contained malware, and although the now disbanded hacker group placed a warning about the Trojan Horse in their "press release," you had to read the fine print to be warned about it.

Way at the bottom their announcement the group posted the following information:
Note: In "AT&T internal data.rar", do not open "BootableUSB/Program Files/WinRar/WinRar v3.71.exe", as it is malware (due to AT&T using a pirated copy of WinRar).
First, why didn't they just remove that before posting it? Second, why would AT&T be using a pirated copy?

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2012Interesting that they would have embedded WinRAR itself in the RAR file. To open it, you'd either need WinRAR or some other program that can open RAR files (like the open-source 7-zip).

The file is no longer available via The Pirate Bay BitTorrent site, as it was removed over the malware. It may reappear in scrubbed form. Still, those with sufficient security software should have been protected from infection.

On InfoSec Island, a website for IT and security professionals, security expert Kevin McAleavey wrote,
"It turns out that the RAR file offered as a torrent download is infected with a backdoor of the 'RBOT' class of malware. This type of malware was commonly used by the lulzsec 'hackers' to own other machines, but is a different variant of the tools they normally used to expand their botnet."
Based on that, it sounds like LulzSec might have planted the malware itself, but they why warn about it, even in a footnote. McAleavey wrote the respected "BOClean" anti-malware software which was later acquired by security firm Comodo.

In addition to the Trojan, LulzSec's last drop of data included information about AT&T's LTE rollout, data from an external NATO-affiliated site, and more.

LulzSec suddenly quit last Saturday, after only 50 days of "lulz." It's suspected that they may have felt the heat of law enforcement or other hackers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 ditches California Associates over new sales tax law

Faster than an Amazon Associate could blink, sent out notices on Wednesday, telling Associates that due to California's new budget, which includes a new sales tax on purchases, their accounts would be terminated, IF the sales tax was signed into law (which it has).

The state of California is following the example of many other states, passing an "Amazon Tax." In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in Quill vs. North Dakota that unless a retailer had a "physical presence" in a state, it could no be required to collect sales tax on purchases made in that state. does not have a warehouse or any other physical location, but what Californian and other states have done is pass laws that mandate that a physical presence is "created" by any Associates that has in a state. Amazon Associates is a program in which websites can post ads for products at Associates receive a cut of those sales.

Thus, what has done in the past when a state has passed such a tax (except in New York, where it continues to battle legally) is cut ties with any Associates in that state. Since Governor Jerry Brown signed the budget and the new Amazon Tax into law on Wednesday, all California Associates will now be terminated.

It's not just that is cutting ties with Affiliates, either. Other programs that offer similar programs, such as Commission Junction, are seeing those retailers that currently don't have to pay sales tax in that state dump their affiliates as well. One example is Woot! at Commission Junction.

California has an extremely high sales tax, and thus's lack of a sales tax on purchases gives it a great advantage over other retailers. To be clear, residents in California and other states are supposed to pay the sales tax themselves as a "use tax" on their state tax returns, but few, if any, do.

Meanwhile, this new California law, like the other Amazon tax laws around the nation in other states does nothing to help the state's budget. In fact, it hurts the state. Not only will simply dump its Affiliates, thus maintaining its sales tax-free status, in doing so it will remove revenue from California by eliminating the income tax the state collects from those Affiliates.

The email that sent to its Associates can be read below.

Amazon Termination Email

Anonymous releases personal Arizona police info in 'Chinga La Migra II' dump

Arizona may have hoped that the disbanding of LulzSec meant the end to its hacker woes, but such is not the case. Anonymous, which was LulzSec's partner in the AntiSec campaign designed to target corruption in big business and governments, has stepped into the void and launched Chinga La Migra II.

Wine Cellarage Buy NowChinga La Migra isn't a random set of Spanish words. As defined by the Online Urban Dictionary, it means "f*ck the Border Patrol." It's appropriate, as the hacks have been in reprisal for Arizona's controversial SB1070 law. LulzSec fired the first shot with a data in Chinga La Migra I last week.

The latest set of data, accessible at The Pirate Bay, supposedly includes names, addresses, phone numbers, passwords, social security numbers, online dating account info, voicemails, chat logs, and "seductive girlfriend pictures" belonging to a dozen Arizona police officers.

MacMall Financing Options Anonymous said they were looking "specifically for humiliating dirt." In addition to the above information, the data dump includes more internal police reports, evidence of police forwarding
racist chain emails, info on Percocet-using K9 drug unit cops, and a convicted sex offender who was part of "FOP Maricopa Lodge Five" (FOP = Fraternal Order of Police).

In addition, the group also hit Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesperson Stephen Harrison. He had been stating that Arizona would upgrade their security and also that the state would make arrests in the Chinga La Migra campaign.
"We owned his personal hotmail, facebook and accounts and dumped all his personal details for the world to see. The same fate will meet anyone else who tries to paint us as terrorists in an Orwellian attempt to pass more pro-censorship or racial-profiling police state laws" [which is what SB1070 has been labeled, a law which will lead to racial profiling].
Earlier, Arizona issued concerns over the safety of police officers "outed" by the AntiSec hacks. Anonymous addressed that, as well, saying:
"Yes we're aware that putting the pigs on blast puts risks their safety, those poor defenseless police officers who lock people up for decades, who get away with brutality and torture, who discriminate against people of color, who make and break their own laws as they see fit. We are making sure they experience just a taste of the same kind of violence and terror they dish out on an every day basis."
The authenticity of the data requires confirmation; last time Arizona authenticated the data. We're not so sure Arizona would like to confirm that this rather racy photo belongs to David J. Basaldua, but hey, who knows?

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security

Amazon Appstore's free app of the day, 6/29/2011: Speed

Photobucket has promised to make a paid app free every day in the Amazon Appstore, and today's app is Speed (which is, since the name is rather vague, a GPS speedometer).

Speed is priced at $0.99 in the Android Market. Meanwhile, it is normally priced at $0.99 in the Amazon Appstore. As we noted previously, prices sometimes differ between the two stores.

TigerDirect Deal of the Day
Speed is described as follows:
Speed, the simple yet elegant speedometer for Android from High Caffeine Content, uses the location data from your GPS to provide a near-accurate representation of how fast you're actually traveling.

Lush Graphics and a Clear Display
Featuring lush leather-like graphics and a clear, legible display, Speed is the perfect bicycle, boat, or train speedometer. Speed supports both kilometers and miles per hour as well as a landscape mode for wide-screen operation. Simply tap the dial to switch between miles, kilometers, and knots.

Please note that unless you have remarkably accurate GPS coverage, Speed requires a minimum pace of roughly 5 kilometers--or 3 miles--per hour to register your movement speed. This is not a pedometer, but the app works beautifully for biking, boating, driving, flying, and train travel.
Speed has a 5-star rating in the Android Market, and 3-stars in the Amazon Appstore.

GPS tracking and speed estimates therein, not a GPS app, have been used before to fight speeding tickets (unsuccessfully). Don't expect high precision from this app.

Additionaly, using the GPS feature on your smartphone (as opposed to location via cell tower estimation) will really suck your battery dry --- quickly. opened up the Appstore despite a lawsuit by Apple, which has previously trademarked the term "App Store." Microsoft has filed an appeal against that trademark, saying the term is too generic. has responded to the lawsuit in the same manner.

34,500 Japanese children to receive personal radiation monitors

Due to abnormally high radiation readings which have been recorded in the area of the city of Fukushima, more than 30,000 children between the ages of four and 15 will receive dosimeters (personal radiation monitors) in the latest "fallout" from Japan's nuclear disaster, which began with the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country.

Family_History_125x125_New-2010The disaster, which occurred at Fukushima prefecture's namesake nuclear plant, the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which has six reactors and is run by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), is only the second Level 7 accident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). The other was the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The government has established a 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the plant, and another 6-mile (10-kilometer) ring outside of that in which residents have been told to stay indoors and be prepared to evacuate. In addition, pregnant women and children have been instructed to take special precautions.

New Packages Available. Buy your TASER C2 Today!While authorities have provided dosimeters to schools outside the exclusion zone, this is the first time they will be supplied to individual pupils. The government continues to say radiation levels in the city remain well below those considered dangerous.

The dosimeters will be distributed in September to 34,500 children. They will wear the radiation monitors for three months, and will have monthly readings taken. Data from the dosimeters will be analyzed to assess the risks posed by long-term, cumulative radiation exposure.

Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

MoviePass launches $50 / month all-you-can-watch movie-viewing service

Netflix's all-you-can view video streaming has turned it into the biggest bandwidth gobbler during prime-time viewing hours, and now we will see if MoviePass can accomplish the same thing for movies. The $50 per month service will allow subscribers to watch an unlimited number of movies in theaters, using their smartphones as tickets.

Fandango - Movie Tickets OnlineThe service launched in private beta, in Monday, serving a number of San Francisco Bay Area movie theaters. Currently, there's no native mobile app (coming soon), but using an HTML5 application, MoviePass will let users search for a film, find a local show time, and buy tickets from already existing online ticketing companies like Once you arrive at the theater, the GPS-aware app will spit out a redemption code so you can receive your tickets from a kiosk or ticket counter.

There are some limitations:
  • Users can see one movie per day.
  • Users can only see a movie one time. That means if you want to watch the final Harry Potter flick more than once, you'll have to pay the second ... or more ... times.
  • Tickets are non-transferrable, and can only be purchased on the day of the show.
  • There will be a $3 surcharge for IMAX and 3D tickets.
  • The company is working on a "limited pass" service which would offer four movies a month for $30.
MoviePass hopes to expand into more markets by August and to go nationwide this fall. It's also possible that the $50 subscription rate might vary in more or less expensive locations of the country.

Free Shipping only at WirelessEmporium.comIt's unclear if the service will work across supported cities; it's something the company is considering. Also, based on the above limitations, if you are a "couple" (married, partnered, BF, GF) both people would need a subscription, since only one ticket can be purchased per day.

It's an interesting idea, but with the advent of HDTV and large screen TVs, will it take off? As we've commented before, the experience at theaters has worsened with the (let's be honest) asinine behavior of some who like to text, talk, get cell phone calls, and more during a movie.

The following: San Francisco Bay Area Theaters will participate in the MoviePass beta, which launches Wednesday:
  • The Clay, Bridge, Lumiere, Embarcadero, Opera Plaza Cinemas and AMC Van Ness 14 in San Francisco; AMC Bay Street 16 in Emeryville; California Theatres and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley;
  • Piedmont Theatre in Oakland;
  • Albany Twin in Albany;
  • Big Cinemas Towne 3, Camera 3, Camera 12, AMC Eastridge 15 and AMC Saratoga 14 in San Jose;
  • Camera 7 in Campbell;
  • AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara;
  • AMC Cupertino Square 16 in Cupertino;
  • Camera Cinemas Los Gatos in Los Gatos;
  • and Aquarius in Palo Alto.
You can watch a video on MoviePass below.

Android now activating 500,000 devices daily, rising 4.4 percent week-to-week: Google

Some are sounding the death knell for Android, based on market share reports (1, 2), but it's hard to understand that based on a Tweet from Google's Andy Rubin. Google is now activating 500,000 Android devices daily, and in addition, that value is rising at a 4.4 percent rate every week.

That's a huge bump over the 400,000 that Google said it was activating daily when it last spoke on the matter at Google I/O in mid-May. So, in less than a month an a half, Android's daily activations grew 100,000.

While Nielsen and Needham's Charlie Wolf pointed to an earlier Android peak, comScore issued different numbers, saying Android continued to rise.

At Google I/O, the company announced it had already activated 100 million Android devices from 36 OEMS and 215 Carriers. At the time of tyhat announcement, the Internet giant said there were 310 Android devices that had been launched in 112 countries. Since then, obviously, there have been many more released.

Additionally, Hugo Barra, Google’s Product Management Director of Android said at Google I/O that there were 450,000 Android developers and over 200,000 apps in the Android Market.

Some customers squeezing Final Cut Pro X refunds out of Apple

Apple's new release of Final Cut Pro X has proven to be somewhat of an embarassment to the company. It is a complete rewrite of the prior version, but has been blasted for missing and modified functionality, such as lack of support for older file types, functions becoming difficult to find (anyone remember the Office 2007 ribbon?) and audio markers that no longer work “the way they used to."

Click Here For The Wall Street JournalIt's gone so far as to become the butt of late-night humor. Conan's own film editors sung its praises, while showing off results that were definitely meant to be snarky (see below).

While all of Apple's "stores," such as the App Store, iTunes and the Mac App Store say that all purchases are final, it appears that Apple has felt enough heat that exceptions are being made. It's not as though customers couldn't receive refunds in the past, either, but it usually involves negotiation.

At any rate, Apple has refunded money to at least some Final Cut Pro X buyers. The software costs $299, and is available only from the Mac App Store, which could make Apple's life easier in terms of issuing hoped-for updates and fixes.

While some folks have received refunds, others have taken to Apple's support forums for advice on how to get one. The best complaint, most have been told, is to simply say the software doesn't function as expected.

Google's Android Market has an official refund policy, but it's only 15 minutes. Apple's App Store has an official 7-day return policy, in Taiwan only, due to local regulations.

Watch Conan's take on Final Cut Pro X below.

Apartment complexes use DNA testing to target dog poop scofflaws

Wikimedia Commons
The relatively low price and ease of DNA testing has led one apartment complex to take what some might call a radical step in combating scofflaws: DNA testing for dogs in the complex so managers can easily ID those who aren't picking up their canine's waste.

Insure Your Pet's Health For Pennies A Day!Timberwood Commons in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is requiring residents with dogs to provide DNA samples of their dogs, obtained via mouth swaps. The complex is just the latest among a growing number of rental properties to implement such testing.

The complex is using testing via PooPrints, a subsidiary of BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tennessee. Unscooped dog poop is matched to DNA already submitted by residents after a sample of the waste is sent to BioPet Vet Lab.

First-time violators at Timberwood receive a warning, though they have to pay a $60 fee to cover the DNA testing costs. Any further infractions are considered a lease violation and the offender will be forced to depart the premises.

The PooPrints website estimates a single pet creates 276 pounds of waste per year, though we're not sure how that works out between say, a St. Bernard, and a chihuahua. The site also notes that 40 percent of dog poop goes unscooped, and that Consumer Reports listed dog poop at No. 6 among Americans' top gripes in 2010.

It's hard enough to find an apartment complex that allows dogs, and those who eschew the rules should indeed be punished, as property manager Debbie Violette says. We have to wonder, though, if PooPrints should expand into cat feces, as well. Despite the fact that most give their cats a litter box to use, some let them run free, and they deposit pet waste as well.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Google's social networking project revealed: Google+

Google is betting a lot on social networking this year, and has even tied 2011 employee bonuses to "success" in social. Thus, this has been expected: on Tuesday Google unveiled Google+, AKA a black bar at the top of, its super-secret social networking project that has been rumored for the past year.

FireSale Daily DealGoogle was quick to call Google+ a "project" and emphasized that it might be "rough around the edges." That said, it's divided into Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and mobile (which has its own subdivisions).

Here's what they are:

Circles: As you might imagine, organizing your friends and contacts is prime Google+ material, and that's where Circles come in. Basically they are just groups. You drag people from your Contacts into the Circles you designate.

Sparks: The name, we think, comes from "spark an idea" or "spark a conversation." You select interests, and Sparks delivers a feed of content related to them using (what else) Google's search technology.

Hangouts: Think of it multi-person video chat with members of a particular Circle. It's like "hanging out" with your friends. If chatting with a Circle, everyone else in that Circle will get an alert to come "hang out." Up to 10 people can "hang out" at once.

Mobile: What else, a Google+ Android application. It will come to iOS soon, naturally. It allows you to add your location to every post, or to Instantly Upload pictures to a private album in the cloud. So Google+ includes Huddle, which is a group messaging feature that messages everyone inside a Circle at once.

There are already apps in the Android Market that feature group chat, that will likely see a sudden drop in popularity.

The big problem with Google+ will be convincing people they need it. Users already have a Facebook app on their smartphone (don't they?), and probably Twitter as well, so the big problem will be convincing people that they need another social networking app .. as they're not likely to drop Facebook anytime soon.

You can watch a series of videos on all the Google+ features below.

Education toy maker LeapFrog introduces the LeapPad tablet 'computer'

We have both an iPad and a Motorola Xoom, and in both cases, our 2 1/2 year old daughter wants to play with them. Both of them are slightly expensive to let someone like her play with them, so it's with great hope that we viewed LeapFrog's Tuesday announcement of its LeapPad tablet. - Rent or Buy textbooksIt's not as though our daughter can't use the iPad; in fact, she quite deft and can unlock it and run apps. It's that it's too expensive, and we'd also rather not have her constantly taking pictures of the ceiling with the front-facing camera.

Meanwhile, LeapFrog's new $100 LeapPad tablet computer takes the name of its older LeapPad electronic interactive children's book platform. The LeapPad has a 5-inch 480 x 272-pixel (16:9) touchscreen that is encased in tough plastic, to protect it from peanut butter laden fingers, and it even sports a still and video camera, a microphone and 2GB of memory.

The LeapPad will have a number of child-friendly apps and educational games available, such as Disney Animation Studio, as well compatibility with over 100 downloadable apps and LeapFrog cartridges, ranging in price from $5 to $25.

Turn Your Everyday Spending into College Savings!It will also work as an interactive reader and play videos, but there's no wi-fi, so in order to download and share a customer will need to tether with a Windows or Mac computer. Additionally, for now, at least, no third-party development of apps will be supported.

The target age range is 4-9, but we are confident our toddler can work with it just fine when it ships on August 15. Pre-orders begin on June 29.

John Barbour is a veteran of the toy industry who came out of retirement to become LeapFrog’s chief executive in March. He admits that LeapFrog, once renowned for its educational "toys," lost its way for a time. “We lost direction for a few years. We are coming back. We are going to be the leader in this space.”

Certainly, a $100 tablet is more around the price for a "toy" we'd gift to our daughter at her young age, rather than a Xoom or iPad 2. That said, she knows the iPad 2, in particular, and whether the fact that the LeapPad UI is different and the apps are different will mean it's less of an attraction to her remains to be seen.

Microsoft launches Office 365, its cloud-based Google Apps competitor

Microsoft has launched its cloud-based Office suite, Office 365. The company has been publicly beta testing the software since last October; it's meant to be a direct competitor to Google Apps for Business.

iolo System Mechanic® - Fix, Speed Up Your PCOffice 365 includes all of the Office Web Apps (Word, Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint), as well as email support and Microsoft Access. It also includes ActiveSync, but not the ActiveSync you might think of as being a desktop sync tool for Windows Mobile. The new ActiveSync allows users to access their cloud-based information (email, web apps, websites, calendars, etc.) from just about any device, including smartphones and tablets.

There are Small Business and Enterprise subscription plans. Small and medium-sized businesses can choose a $6 per user per month option that only includes Office Web Apps and Microsoft Exchange. Enterprise plans cost between $10 and $27 per user each month depending on the feature set chosen, including Office Professional Plus. Microsoft offers a free 30 day trial.

Microsoft added that it has partnered with over 20 service providers globally, who plan to bring Office 365 to their customers this year. Bell Canada, Intuit, NTT Communications Corp., Telefonica S.A., Telstra Corp. and Vodafone Group Plc, among others, will package and sell Office 365 with their own services for small and midsize businesses.

Roxio Easy Media Creator 10- Buy Now!One thing that should be made clear: despite Office 365's cloud aspirations, and its targeted rival of Google Apps for Business, they are significantly different. Office 365 is meant to be used with a locally installed version of Office (preferably Microsoft Office 2010). Google Apps for Business is a browser app. That said, the use of the two suites ... office productivity ... is the same.

However, Google Apps for Business is less expensive than Office 365, with a $50 annual fee. Google Apps, and even the free Google Docs, have made significant inroads into Microsoft Office's market share. That said, the company said that it already has approximately 400,000 customers on board from the beta testing of Office 365.

Anonymous' latest target: the city of Orlando, FL

Now that LulzSec has "retired," there's a big void in hacking headlines, which seemed to average more than one a day with LulzSec around. More established  (and loosely tied together) hacking group Anonymous seems ready to fill that gap, and is making Orlando, FL its latest target.

Internet Security -10%The Tweet issued by Anonymous at the Twitter feed of @OpOrland2011 says:
We have a Target, there will be an assault and take down at 10:00 AM ET tomorrow
[meaning June 28]. Media should watch for a Press Release tonight. #OpOrlando
It's another of Anonymous' "cause" campaigns. Although the target site, Orlando Florida Guide, seems random, it's just another attack on an Orlando, FL site, following attacks last week on the websites for the Orlando Chamber of Commerce and Universal Studios.

Why Orlando, FL? That's a good question.

Anonymous is attacking the city because of its recent arrest of members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, which is an anti-poverty group that has been feeding large groups of homeless people in Lake Eola Park. However, this food distribution is in defiance of a city ordinance that requires permits to feed large groups in downtown parks, and also limits organizations to only two permits per year, per park.

Anonymous has promised new DDoS attack on a different Orlando, FL target. Today, the site Orlando Florida Guide (which doesn't appear to be city-owned, BTW, but does foster tourism to the city) is not completely down, but has been slow to load and up-and-down at times. Perhaps there are not enough LOICs firing.