Saturday, March 31, 2012

Google's first 2012 April Fools' Day joke is 'Google Maps for NES'

It isn't quite April Fools' Day yet, but Google has already sprung one of its famous April Fools' Day jokes on the Internet. Go to Google Maps, and you'll see that Google has addressed a long-standing problem: the inability of folks to view Google Maps on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

After all, a video game system is a computing system. Nintendo sold 62 million units of the NES, as well, making it one of the most popular computing systems ever.

Don't forget, however, the familiar tricks necessary if you can't get the Google Maps cartridge to work: blow on the cartridge first. You might need to pop it in and out a few times, as well.

If you don't have an NES, you can try it directly by going to maps.google.com and clicking "Try It Now" in the "Start Your Quest" section.

Here's what Google says:

"Our engineering team in Japan understood the importance of maps on retro game systems. With the power of Google’s immense data centers, and support from Nintendo and Square Enix, we were able to overcome the technical and design hurdles of developing 8-bit maps. Today, we’re excited to announce the result: a version of Google Maps for NES, with beautiful low-res graphics, simple and intuitive controls, and a timeless soundtrack."

Notably, a mobile version for the Nintendo Game Boy is also under development.

Google is famous for releasing a huge number of April Fools' Day jokes on the Internet on April 1, and we're sure this year will be no different. One has to wonder just how much productivity on "real" products lags in the months leading into April 1.

You can watch a demo of the NES version of Google Maps below.





Amazon Appstore's Free App of the Day, 3/31/2012: Brixter

Amazon.com has promised to make a paid app free every day in the Amazon Appstore, and today's app is Brixter.

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Brixter is priced at $0.99 in Google Play, and is normally priced at $0.99 in the Amazon Appstore. As we've noted before, there are sometimes differences in pricing between the two marketplaces.




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Brixter is described as follows:
Brixter offers an original approach to the classic blocks-style puzzle genre. This game for your Android device is a compelling brain puzzle that stimulates thought and challenges your coordination skills.

Block by Colorful Block

When you start playing Brixter, you're given an assembly grid. In this grid, you'll assemble groups of blocks with the same color in tile-puzzle fashion. Once you've grouped three or more blocks, and at least one of them touches the top boundary of the grid, a new shape is activated.

You're not completely at the mercy of circumstance as you play, either. You can create your own shape and send it up to complete full rows as they accumulate on the upper area of the screen.

After a short learning curve, you'll master the game functions and enjoy cruising through the levels. But don't worry, you'll definitely be challenged as the game progresses. And you can always set the difficulty level to match your skills (you'll find this in the options menu).

No Colors, No Problem

If you happen to be color blind, you can still enjoy this game! It's easy to enable Color Blind mode if you have trouble distinguishing between the blocks' colors.

Brixter supports OpenFeint. You can choose to play against the rest of the world and save your high scores globally, or you can turn OpenFeint off through the menu and use the local high scores table.
Brixter has a rating of 5.0 stars in Google Play and 3.0 stars in the Amazon Appstore.

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That's a big diffence. The 5.0 star rating in Google Play comes with only 7 ratings. There is also a Brixter Free app with 13 ratings in Google Play also with a 5.0 rating.

Much of the problem in the Amazon Appstore comes from the OpenFeint opposition in that market. However, as the developer has commented in the Appstore, OpenFeint is disabled by default. We'd give it a shot.

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Those who are considering "buying" a Free Amazon Appstore app might want to consider what it means to developers.

Amazon.com 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. Amazon.com has responded to the lawsuit in the same manner.

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Google Drive cloud storage service to launch with 5GB free: sources

It's been rumored and awaited nearly as long as the now released "Duke Nuke'm Forever." It's the Google Drive (formerly called the GDrive), and rumor has it that it will finally make its debut in April.

The latest information hit earlier this week, when sources speaking to GigaOM said that Google Drive will launch in early April, with 1GB of free storage and a similar appearance to the current Google Docs user interface. The was a little disappointment at that information as, for one, rival DropBox offers 2GB of storage for free.

However, as we close in on April, a new screenshot has been leaked that seems to show that the Google Drive will be offering even more than DropBox's amount.

The screenshot, obtained by TalkAndroid, shows that users will get "5GB of storage from the start" and that "you can upgrade to get more space at any time."

It's clear DropBox and Google Drive will be competitors, and even their taglines show that. Dropbox uses the tagline: “Your life’s work, wherever you are.” Google's tagline is “All your files – everywhere.”

Google is also updating its support documentation online, although the "leak" has since been redacted. Earlier, this support page said:

"Editing documents in the Google Drive Android app requires ongoing syncs to update your documents, which can increase your bandwidth usage. Keep this in mind if you have a limited data plan with your mobile provider."

However, they've since restored the document to its prior text, with the word "Docs" instead of "Drive."

More information is that right now it seems that the launch is pointing to April 16, which is a Monday, and one day before income taxes are due (so it might not be the best date to choose for a launch).



Friday, March 30, 2012

Nokia Lumia 900 pre-orders begin, free with promo to new AT&T customers

As expected, AT&T has begun accepting Nokia Lumia 900 pre-orders. For a mere $99.99 you can get an LTE-enabled Windows Phone that AT&T calls its flagship phone. Remember, though, that although the black and cyan models launch on April 8, the white model doesn't launch until April 22 and as such isn't available for pre-order just yet.

AT&T also has a promotion running right now, for new AT&T customers, of $100 off. In other words, if you are a new AT&T customer, you can get the Nokia Lumia 900 for free (with a two year service commitment, of course).

If you're eligible for the promotion, it makes sense to go with ordering from AT&T. If not, you might want to consider Walmart. Walmart is selling the Lumia 900 for only $49.99.



'Creepy' iOS app 'Girls Around Me' shut down after Foursquare revokes API access

A creepy --- and that's the way many are describing it --- iOS app called Girls Around Me has basically been shut down after attention was cast upon it on Friday, and Foursquare revoked its API access.

Girls Around Me WAS using Foursquare, the location-based check-in service, to determine your location, as well as the location of others. Once you start up the app, it scans the area for women who have recently checked-in.

Images from their social networking profile are displayed in the app. You can tap on her image, and look at all her Facebook information, as well. All this wouldn't be so bad if people locked down their privacy settings. Let's be honest, though, most people don't understand the privacy settings for various services and just leave them as is.

A very detailed report on the app highlighted its stalkerish-ness, and that was enough for Foursquare. They told the New York Times:

“This is a violation of our API policy, so we’ve reached out to the developer and shut off their API access."

Maybe it's a violation of their API policy, but we'd ask the question: when are people going to learn to lock down their privacy settings on these services?

Let's be honest; why does anyone really want to share their location?



Second class action lawsuit filed against Apple's Siri

A lawsuit against Apple for what has been called a flawed Siri feature on its iPhone 4S, one filed earlier this month, has been joined by a second such filing. The first was filed by Frank M. Fazio of New York, who is being represented by Robbins Geller in the matter. The second was filed by iPhone 4S owner David Jones in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The argument made in the new lawsuit is basically the same as in the earlier one: Siri doesn't live up to the claims made in ads or presentations. The suit says:

"Through its nationwide multimedia marketing campaign, Apple disseminates false and deceptive representations regarding the functionality of the Siri feature. For example, in many of Apple's television commercials, consumers are shown using Siri to make appointments, find restaurants, and even to learn the guitar chords to classic rock songs. In its advertisements, Apple depicts these tasks as easily accomplished 'just by asking' Siri."

It's not that easy, said Jones in his lawsuit.

"Apple's deceptive commercials diverge greatly from the actual functionality and operation of the Siri feature as experienced by Plaintiff and fellow consumers. Siri would either not understand what Plaintiff asked, or, after a long wait, provided the wrong answer."

In fact, a recent survey showed that Siri users simply don't use it for more complex tasks very often. Most of the use centers around make phone calling, sending text messages, or looking up information.

At least some of that limitation in use is because Siri has issues with voice recognition.

Both the Los Angeles and earlier New York lawsuits seek class action status.



Huge credit card data breach could compromise as many as 10 million credit card numbers


It's been a while, but here we are again. A credit card data breach has just been reported, and depending on who you listen to, it could affect a massive number of credit card numbers.

The breach occurred at Global Payments, which processes credit cards AND debit cards for banks and merchants. The company's stock (GPN) took a major hit on Friday, dropping 9 percent before trading was halted.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the breach has put about 50,000 credit and debit cardholders at risk. However, Krebs on Security says that sources in the financial industry say that as many as 10 million credit card numbers may have been compromised.

VISA and MasterCard say that the Global Payments was compromised between Jan. 21, 2012 and Feb. 25, 2012. The alerts from the companies also indicated that full Track 1 and Track 2 data was stolen. What does that mean? It means that data was taken that could be used to counterfeit new credit cards.

MasterCard said, "MasterCard's own systems have not been compromised in any manner." The company will "continue to both monitor this event and take steps to safeguard account information."

VISA said, "There has been no breach of Visa systems, including its core processing network VisaNet." The company added that it has provided banks with affected account numbers "so they can take steps to protect consumers through independent fraud monitoring and, if needed, reissuing cards."

While VISA and MasterCard handle transactions for banks that issue their cards and those that handle transactions for merchants, they don't issue cards directly to consumers nor do they loan funds to them in the form of revolving credit accounts, either. Thus, it will be up to the banks to contact affected consumers and take action.

This is the first huge breach of credit card systems since the Heartland Payment Systems breach of some three years ago. That breach dwarfs this one in size: it compromised 130 million credit card numbers vs. the currently estimated 10 million.



Spike Lee apologizes, settles with couple after re-Tweeting incorrect Zimmerman address

Spike Lee has apologized for his mistaken re-Tweet for what turned out to be the wrong address for George Zimmerman, the shooter of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who is still being investigated by a special prosecutor.

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The address, first Tweeted by Marcus Davonne Higgins, sent folks to the address of David and Elaine McClain, a couple in their 70s whose home is about four miles from the location of the shooting incident. The confusion came because the McClains' son, William George Zimmerman, once lived at the address.

The McClains went into hiding in fear after Lee's re-Tweet.

Not only did Spike Lee apologize to the couple, on Twitter, he and the couple have reached a financial settlement in the matter. Matt Morgan, the McClain's attorney, made the following statement:

"At this point in time, we have come to an agreement with Spike Lee and his attorneys, and at this point, the matter is fully resolved. Spike has agreed to compensate the McClains for their loss and for the disruption into their lives. He's taken full responsibility."

Late on Wednesday, Lee Tweeted the following message:

"I Deeply Apologize To The McClain Family For Retweeting Their Address. It Was A Mistake. Please Leave The McClain's In Peace."

Morgan added that Lee also called the McClains to apologize personally. He said,

"We had a very sincere and heartfelt conversation with Mr. Lee today. His apology was genuine and our clients were grateful. We asked Mr. Lee to do the right thing and he did."

Elaine McClain said,

"He was really kind. And when he called us, you could just tell he really felt bad about it. And it was just a slip, and I just know that he really, really has been concerned."

Despite the fact that Lee --- and anyone else Tweeting addresses or personal information --- are violating Twitter's ToS, comedienne Rosanne Barr Tweeted the correct address for the real George Zimmerman's parents. She later deleted that, but also Tweeted (since also deleted)

on Wednesday, Barr tweeted the correct address for Zimmerman's parents, then deleted the tweet, then threatened to tweet it again.

“If Zimmerman isn't arrested I'll rt his address again. maybe go 2 his house myself."



Amazon Appstore's Free App of the Day, 3/30/2012: Fling!

Amazon.com has promised to make a paid app free every day in the Amazon Appstore, and today's app is Fling!.

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Fling! is priced at $0.99 in Google Play, and is normally priced at $1.00 in the Amazon Appstore. As we've noted before, there are sometimes differences in pricing between the two marketplaces.




Fling! is described as follows:
Fling! offers a challenging yet cute puzzle game with territorial yet cuddly contenders. Facing a field of colorful, dough-eyed furballs, fling one into another until only one victorious furball remains. Don't get too confident; plan your moves carefully, or you're sure to share the board with other furballs and no more moves.

Becoming King Furball

Imagine your field as a grid. Fling furballs along a line into other furballs, causing the targeted furball to roll off the board. Furballs who are side-by-side cannot fling the other off of the board. They must be separated by at least one space. Furballs cannot be flung off the board unless knocked off. Use the undo and hint buttons when you get stuck.

It's a Furball Frenzy

Enjoy Fling! in four game modes: Free Play, Arcade, Challenge, and Frenzy. Freeplay mode allows you to solve puzzles at your own pace, and at any level of difficulty you choose. Unlock harder difficulty levels for a greater challenge. Arcade mode is a race against the clock as you solve puzzles of increasing difficulty before the clock runs out. Challenge mode requires you to solve sets of puzzles within a specific time frame, while trying to beat your personal best. Frenzy mode is a total fling-fest! Keep the board from filling up by flinging same-colored furballs from the board.

Fling! features 100,000 unique puzzles, so you will never encounter two puzzles that are the same. The puzzles are categorized into 35 levels of increased difficulty. Each puzzle has a single, unique solution.

Key Features
  • Use hints and undos
  • Listen to game music or your own soundtrack
  • Compete for local and global high scores
  • Begin where you left off with automatic game saves
  • Switch themes and play with marbles or fruits
  • Watch the informative tutorial and practice
Fling! has a rating of 4.6 stars in Google Play and 3.7 stars in the Amazon Appstore.

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The 4.6 star rating in Google Play comes with 346 ratings. There is also a Fling! Free app with 239 ratings in Google Play and a 4.5 rating (yes, it's strange that the free version has less ratings than the paid version).

Much of the problem in the Amazon Appstore comes from the OpenFeint opposition in that market. We'd say this game is worth buying while it is free.

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Those who are considering "buying" a Free Amazon Appstore app might want to consider what it means to developers.

Amazon.com 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. Amazon.com has responded to the lawsuit in the same manner.



Apple opens iPhone 4 'Antennagate' settlement registrations

The saga of the iPhone 4's "Antennagate" issue is near its end. On Thursday, Apple opened up claims for iPhone 4 owners who wish to join in the class action settlement. Those who fill out a form can claim a $15 settlement fee.

The claim form is available here. Even those who took advantage of Apple's free case offer are eligible for the $15. In fact, it also goes the reverse direction, as well: class members can continue to ask for a free bumper case as per http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4389.

Apple's emails to iPhone 4 owners says:

"Apple will provide a $15 cash payment to Class Members who send in a valid claim form. The claim form will require you to declare that you: (a) experienced antenna or reception issues with your iPhone 4; (b) were unable to return your iPhone 4 without incurring any costs; (c) were unwilling to use a case or free bumper for your iPhone 4; and (d) completed certain troubleshooting steps or are unable to complete the troubleshooting steps because you no longer own your iPhone 4."

As part of the claim form, iPhone 4 owners must supply the serial number of their iPhone 4. You can find that information by going to Settings > General > About. If you no longer own your iPhone 4, but purchased it from Apple directly or registered it with Apple, you can verify your ownership and serial number by going to https://supportprofile.apple.com/MySupportProfile.do.

If you want OUT of the settlement so you can sue on your own, you must postmark your request to exclude yourself by June 15, 2012.

"Antennagate" refers to the famous iPhone 4 issue whereupon holding the iPhone 4 a certain way, bridging the gap between the antennas on the lower left-hand side of the case, would cause signal degradation or even dropped calls.

Then Apple CEO Steve Jobs solved the issue by telling an end user "Just avoid holding it in that way." Seriously, Apple eventually held a press conference where they showed similar issues on competing phones, and Apple eventually offered a free case to those requesting one, as with a case the issue was not reproducible.

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Half of all U.S. households own at least one Apple product: survey

Talk about market saturation: CNBC's All-America Economic survey has found that half of all U.S. households own at least one Apple product.

CNBC polled 836 Americans by phone from March 19 to 22, but about more than what electronics graced their homes. They also asked about the household's spending habits, political bent, and investment practices. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percent.

CNBC estimated that the average U.S. household has 1.6 devices made by Apple. Remember that doesn't necessarily mean an iPhone, iPad, or even iPod touch. It doesn't even necessarily mean a Mac of some type. CNBC also said that of those who don't have any APple products, 10 percent plan to get one within the next 12 months. Of those that already have an Apple product, 25 percent said they would buy another within the next year.

The younger you are, the more educated, and (as you might guess) if you are male and make more money, the more more likely you are to own more Apple products.

shows Apple buyers tend to be male, college-educated, and younger. They’re just as likely to own a home as not. Not surprisingly, the more money you earn, the more Apple products you’re likely to own.

For example:

Income differentiation:
  • Of those making less than $30,000, 28 percent own at least one Apple product
  • Of those making more than $75,000, 77 percent own at least one Apple product
  • Those on the higher end average three Apple products; in the other direction, the average is 0.6 product for lower-income homes
Geographically:
  • 57 percent of homes in the western U.S. have an Apple product, compared to between 47 and 51 percent in the rest of the United States
  • Homes in the Western U.S. average two Apple products, while those in the South average just 1.2.
  • 61 percent of surveyed households with children have Apple devices, as opposed to 48 percent of childless households
In terms of age differentiation:
  • 63 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 34 say they are Apple product owners
  • 63 percent of those between the ages of 35 to 49 say they are Apple product owners
  • 50 percent of those between the ages of 50 to 64 say they are Apple product owners
  • 26 percent of those above the age of 64 say they are Apple product owners
In terms of partisan politics, for once both sides of the aisle agree.
  • 56 percent of the members of each party have at least one Apple product [the report did not discuss Independents]
  • However, while twenty-six percent of Democrats plan to buy an Apple product in the next 12 months, versus only 19 percent of Republicans.
This is great, but despite the fact that Apple is the sweetheart of business right now, we'd like to see how many households had a Microsoft product. Since Windows would be included in that, and considering the market share of Apple computers, we'd say it has to exceed these numbers.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blind man (more or less) goes for a spin in a Google driver-less car

Anyone who watched the "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" preview might recall the blind man getting into a car and then driving away. As shocked as passersby might be, that actually happened earlier this week: one of Google's revolutionary self-driving cars took a legally blind man for a spin.

Morgan Hill, Calif. resident Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, can be seen below being taken for a ride in one of Google's self-driving Toyota Prius vehicles. Google released the video to celebrate 200,000 miles of safely-completed computer-lead driving.

In the video, Mahan says that "Ninety-five percent of my vision is gone, I'm well past legally blind. Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and flexibility to go the places I both want to go and need to go, when I need to do those things."

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The car steers itself, using lasers and radar as Mahan sits in the driver's seat. There is, of course, a backup to the automated system (a person) in the passenger's seat.

You'll see him going through the drive-through of Taco Bell (surely Google could have gone through a healthier drive-thru, such as In-and-Out Burger), then takes him to the cleaners (pun intended). Mahan jokes on camera that "this is some of the best driving I've ever done."

In February, Nevada became the first state in the United States to approve self-driving cars. A California state senator is preparing a similar bill.





Google making a tablet push with own store, co-branded Android tablet

Can Google succeed with a co-branded Nexus tablet when it failed with the Nexus One smartphone? We'll find out soon enough, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, which cites people familiar with the initiative.

While the Nexus One really didn't succeed, Google has continued to use Nexus smartphones to introduce its new Android OS versions. The introduction of a Nexus tablet, if done correctly, could be a way for Google to fix its woes in the tablet market: while it has seen Android be a success globally, taking the top smartphone spot from Apple and Nokia, it has been unable to do the same in the tablet market, where the iPad continues to be the tablet of choice by a wide margin.

Last fall market research firm The Gartner Group estimated that Apple's iPad would capture 73 percent of the tablet market versus 17 percent for Android. The only truly successful Android tablet is using a highly customized (and forked) version of Android that isn't even tablet optimized: Amazon.com's Kindle Fire, which uses a modified Android 2.3 OS.

The sad state of Android tablet sales was re-emphasized when details of a court judgment against Hasbro were made public: the extremely hot (spec-wise) Asus Transformer Prime with the quad-care NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor had retailer fulfillment orders for the next two months that totaled only about 80,000. That's sad compared to the 3 million new iPads Apple sold in the device's first weekend.

Part of Google's strategy will be an online tablet store. Among the manufacturers in the store will be Samsung and Asus, with the latter producing a co-branded tablet to be sold in the store, as well. Google's soon-to-be-acquired Motorola subsidiary will also sell tablets in the store, the sources said.

Google is also considering subsidizing the tablets, making them more competitive with both the iPad and the Kindle Fire. Google is also expected to heavily market the store.

Google had issues with the Nexus One and carriers, trying to sell outside of the normal carrier-subsidized model. Since a recent research note by industry analyst Chetan Sharma indicated that 9 out of 10 tablets sold are wi-fi only, Google could eschew any cellular-powered tablets and bypass that issue.

Also confirmed in the report: the next version of Google's Android operating system, Jelly Bean, will ship in the middle of this year, which will create still more Android fragmentation problems, as the big push of upgrades to Ice Cream Sandwich will only begin in Q2.



Apple, Foxconn promise change after FLA audit finds severe violations

The report many have been awaiting, the full Fair Labor Association (FLA) report on the conditions at Apple's Foxconn manufacturing partner in China is "in," and it doesn't appear to be a whitewash. The audit, posted at the FLA's website on Thursday, found "serious and pressing" violations of Chinese labor laws, but the FLA said that as a consequence, it has obtained commitments for improvements from Apple's largest manufacturing partner.

The report said that the FLA has "secured groundbreaking commitments [from Foxconn] that will reduce working hours to legal limits while protecting pay, improve health and safety conditions, establish a genuine voice for workers, and will monitor on an ongoing basis to verify compliance." The FLA found that Foxconn violated not just the code of conduct Apple signed when it joined the FLA in January, but at least 50 breaches of Chinese labor law as well.

Included among the changes will be a reduction of working hours to 49 hours per week, including overtime, while at the same time maintaining total compensation at its current level. The FLA audit found that during peak production periods, workers in the three Foxconn factories it examined put in over 60 hours per week, on average.

In order to make up for the reduced hours per employee, Foxconn will hire tens of thousands of additional workers. It will also have to increase its dormitory and housing capacity to handle that.

This all translates to more cost for Foxconn, which will also translate to more cost for Apple and any others who use Foxconn's manufacturing, including HP, Dell, Nokia, and more. It also explains why worker productivity in the U.S. is so high, for those who are willing to extrapolate the obvious.

Worker productivity is high in the U.S. because companies are unwilling to hire. Companies are unwilling to hire because it costs them more. Even though the current set of workers are overworked, and many of them in the U.S. complain they are, companies continue to eschew hiring.

What's of note is that the report focuses on Chinese labor laws. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know those are far less stringent than American's labor laws. It would be interesting to see how many of those would be violated.

Although Foxconn does work for other companies, it's Apple that has been the focus, as the Cupertino, Calif. giant is the world's most valuable company by market cap. In an emailed statement, Apple said,

“We appreciate the work the FLA has done to assess conditions at Foxconn and we fully support their recommendations. Empowering workers and helping them understand their rights is essential.”

Notably, the FLA auditors found no issues related to child or forced labor, the report said. The average age of workers was 23, it said. However, earlier, SACOM (Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) said that Foxconn hid underage employees during the inspections.

Even before joining the FLA, Apple had published a supplier responsibility report annually since 2007. Last year's report, published in early January, included the results of more than 200 audits at supplier facilities; in addition, for the first time Apple included a list of over 150 suppliers of either components or manufacturing services for Apple.

Apple joined the FLA after a New York Times expose later that same month brought to the fore the harsh working conditions at Foxconn plants.



Google begins using reCAPTCHA to decipher Street View addresses, signs

In September of 2009, Google acquired reCAPTCHA. reCAPTCHA, while having the same basic purpose as any other CAPTCHA technology, which is to weed out non-human bots, it is also used to digitize books, newspapers and old time radio shows.

While Google has been using reCAPTCHA to digitize content for Google Books as well as for the Google News archives, what Google is using reCAPTCHA for now is for yet another Google product: Street View.

The new reCAPTCHAs show the familiar warped text image on one side, with a house address, street address, or even a street sign on the other side. They're not that common yet, but they've been seen on Google's AdWords website, and it only took five refreshes of this page to get the image above.

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The images obviously appear to be street address numbers, so it was believed these were coming from Street View photos. Google confirmed it was running an experiment.

"We’re currently running an experiment in which characters from Street View images are appearing in CAPTCHAs. We often extract data such as street names and traffic signs from Street View imagery to improve Google Maps with useful information like business addresses and locations. Based on the data and results of these reCaptcha tests, we’ll determine if using imagery might also be an effective way to further refine our tools for fighting machine and bot-related abuse online."

It just goes to show that there are still some things humans are still best suited for. It's for this reason that Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk was created.



Social media rails against Alicia Silverstone's baby feeding technique

It's not been a good week for celebrities on social media. First, Spike Lee re-Tweets a post that erroneously identified a couple's house as the home of one George Zimmerman, the shooter of Trayvon Martin. Now, a video of Alicia Silverstone feeding her baby has gone viral, because of what might remind folks of the behavior of sea gulls.

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The viral video, which has been taken and spliced into videos from places like CNN, and more, was first posted to Alicia Silverstone's blog, The Kind Life.

The site, Silverstone says, is:

"... an interactive extension of my book, 'The Kind Diet,' which is about living your healthiest and happiest life to the fullest, while taking care of mama Earth at the same time!"

The video shows Alicia Silverstone, 35, mashing up some of her son Bear Blu Jarecki's meal in her mouth before spitting it into his [Silverstone married Christopher Jarecki in 2005]. According to the site, the video was taken a month or two ago, "when he [Bear] was a bit wobbly. Now he is grabbing my mouth to get the food!"

The reaction in social media has been mixed. Some have replied or commented on the video with "Gross." Others are wondering what the big deal is, and comparing it to the hysteria that sometimes surrounds breast feeding in public.

It's certainly not unheard of in nature. For example, sea gulls have a red spot near the end of their bill that, when pecked by chicks, stimulates the parents to regurgitate food.

Prior to this, Alicia Silverstone was perhaps best known for her starring role in the movie "Clueless." She also appeared in the George Clooney Batman film "Batman and Robin," as Batgirl.





Amazon Appstore's Free App of the Day, 3/29/2012: Fast Food Nutrition

Amazon.com has promised to make a paid app free every day in the Amazon Appstore, and today's app is Fast Food Nutrition.

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Fast Food Nutrition is priced at $2.99 in Google Play, and is normally priced at $2.99 in the Amazon Appstore. As we've noted before, there are sometimes differences in pricing between the two marketplaces.

Fast Food Nutrition is described as follows:
Nutritional Data at Your Fingertips

Do you like to dine out at fast food restaurants, but are concerned about what you are eating? Fast Food Nutrition is a handy app for your Android device that provides you with a variety of nutritional information. This simple tool helps you to keep track of all your nutrition and diet information for more than 300 of your favorite restaurants chains and 50,000 menu items.

The app's nutritional data includes: calories, Weight Watchers points, fats, trans fats, saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, and protein. Fast Food Nutrition is more than a calorie counter; it actually helps you calculate your calories as well. It also displays the total percent of RDA for all meals consumed.

Simply input a restaurant name into the search function, or click on its easy-to-recognize logo, to access its menu items. Then, click on the menu items to create an order and see how many combined calories and other attributes your selection contains. Also, you can save your selected restaurants to your Favorites for easy future access.
Fast Food Nutrition has a rating of 4.1 stars in Google Play and 4.1 stars in the Amazon Appstore.

Webroot
It's amazing to see such agreement between the two markets. It's also nice to see a "different" app, neither productivity nor a video game.

Unlimited Online Backup $4.95 120x120
Those who are considering "buying" a Free Amazon Appstore app might want to consider what it means to developers.

Amazon.com 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. Amazon.com has responded to the lawsuit in the same manner.



AT&T promises Nokia Lumia 900 launch their biggest ever, surpassing even iPhone

The iPhone was probably the best thing to happen to AT&T Wireless in its history. Yet the company has said that when the carrier and handset maker Nokia launch the Lumia 900 next month, it will surpass anything ever done before, including the iPhone.

Make it Yours
The Lumia 900 Windows Phone launches on April 8 for an incredibly low (subsidized) price for a flagship phone: $99.99. That price makes it the most affordable flagship phone AT&T has ever offered, and probably the most affordable flagship phone for any of the Big Four U.S. carriers.

AT&T device head Jeff Bradley said "At all levels, this is a notch above anything we've ever done [including the iPhone]. Before you walk in to the store, you know this is our hero phone."

Even with a new Windows Phone based lineup, so far only T-Mobile and AT&T have committed to Nokia. T-Mobile already sells the Lumia 710, but AT&T has been dismissive of the low-cost model, with Bradley calling the 900 the real re-launch of Nokia in the U.S. For one, the 900 will support LTE.

We've said it before: every app downloaded onto an Android or iOS device means one more reason that an end user won't switch from those platforms to WP. Thus, WP's best chance is among the still large number of people who have not switched to a smartphone.

Just in case, however, While WP has been playing catch-up with regard to apps, AT&T salespeople have been trained to assist customers whoe ARE switching in finding either the same apps or similar ones to those that they use in iOS or Android.

Bradley added that "We’re going big. We’re really bullish [on the Lumia 900].” But they need to go big, and on many levels, because not only does Microsoft's Windows Phone have its own challenges making inroads against iOS and Android, Nokia has never been all that successful in the U.S. It's a popular brand in Europe, but think back and remember how many Nokia models the Big Four sold prior to this: not many.



Hasbro bid for prelim. injunction against Transformer Prime tablet denied, probably unnecessary

Sorry, Hasbro. In December, the company behind the Transformers lines of toys, movies, and TV series, sued Asus in federal district court over the Transformer Prime tablet, but a judge in has ruled that Asus can keep on "truckin'" with respect to shipping those Android-based tablets.

[For those not aware, the lawsuit was filed, at least in part, because the leader of the Autobot set of Transformers is Optimus Prime. Prime transforms into a Peterbilt in his vehicle mode, hence the truckin' comment. Yes, it's somewhat snarky, but the judge in the case seemed to indicate with his comments that he was an Autobots fan.]

Some of the court's opinion seemed to center on describing the movies and cartoons, seeming to indicate Hasbro had a fan in the judge. The court said,

“The Autobots are led by the virtuous Optimus Prime character, while the Decepticons follow the powerful Megatron. According to Hasbro, Optimus Prime is intended to epitomize honor, duty, leadership, and freedom.

"In the third film, an Autobot character known as 'Brains' disguised itself as a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Plus laptop [...] Hasbro developed the 'Transformers Prime' animated television series, which began airing in approximately November 2010. The series focuses on the life and story of the Optimus Prime character. 'Prime' was added to the 'Transformers' mark in the program’s name to emphasize this focus. Thus far, the series has received several Emmy nominations and awards and has been aired in 170 countries.”

Despite the fanboyishness exhibited by the judge, Hasbro lost. The judge added,

“There is nothing gimmicky about the Eee Pad Transformer or the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, nor can it be said that there is any similarity in the use or function between Hasbro and Asus’s products.”

For one, the court noted, the fact that the Transformer Prime tablet can "transform" into a laptop when attached to its accompanying QWERTY keyboard dock added strength to Asus' case. Well, yes, that's exactly why this tablet and the prior Transformer received their names.

Hasbro was none too pleased with the courts decision. "Hasbro strongly disagrees with the Court’s decision not to preliminarily enjoin Asus’ use of those marks, however we were pleased with the Court’s views on the strength of Hasbro’s TRANSFORMERS and TRANSFORMERS PRIME marks. While the case proceeds toward trial, Hasbro will continue to actively pursue this matter and will take all steps necessary to protect its globally recognized and established marks."

Hasbro had been seeking a preliminary injunction.

The court judgment also showed that Hasbro PROBABLY shouldn't worry about confusion. There aren't enough Transformer Prime tablets being sold to confuse many. As the judgment said, "as of February 24, 2012, it [Asus] had received over 2,000 pre-orders ... and that retailer fulfillment orders for the next two months total approximately 80,000 tablet computers."

The Transformer Prime is like a grain of sand on an iPad beach.



Video shows security firm's software breaking into password-protected iPhone in two minutes

It should be no secret that law enforcement can extract information smartphones, and that they do. Just how simple it is hasn't really been known, but a video posted by a Swedish security firm shows it breaking into a passcode-protected iPhone in just minutes.

Micro Systemation, a Swedish security firm that sells tools to break into devices of criminal suspects or military detainees, has released a video that shows how simple it is for those with the right tools to break into a secured iPhone or Android device.

The video was available on YouTube but later removed by the company. Named "Recovering the Passcode from an iPhone," it showed a company demonstration of their XRY application. XRY is able to access the contents of the iPhone in under two minutes. User information, including call history, contacts, GPS location, and messages, can be read.

The company supplies 98 percent of the U.K.'s police departments with products, as well as many U.S. police departments and the FBI. Its largest single customer is the U.S. military.

XRY doesn't jailbreak the phone per se, but does rely on the same sort of security vulnerabilities that jailbreakers or rooters do. That being known, it seems that the onus for protecting your data seems to go back to Apple and other OEMs: make bulletproof, totally secure software with no exploitable bugs and none of this is possible.

We all know that bug-less software of any complexity is really impossible. Mike Dickinson, the firm’s marketing director and voice heard in the video, said,

“Every week a new phone comes out with a different operating sytems and we have to reverse engineer them. We’re constantly chasing the market.”

Naturally he's speaking Android, not iOS. Either way, though, the more complex a passcord or password is, including just length, the harder to break. Dickinson said it could reach a point where trying to break in via brute force just isn't worth it.

Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which fights for "personal freedoms in a networked world," warned:

“If police have a warrant to be in the phone, this is just a way to get access to what they’re legally allowed to. But if they’re going to a protest and seizing folks for booking, and immediately running this on their phones and sucking everything out, we’ve got a real problem.”



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sh*tter: start-up lets you turn your Twitter stream into toilet paper

It sounds like something that might come from The Onion, but it's real. A new start-up named "Shitter" will take your Tweets and turn them into toilet.

Indeed, it's the perfect gift for anyone who has ever criticized Twitter and said that most of the content on it amounts to a steaming pile of dog dung. The tagline for Shitter's homepage reads, “Social media has never been so disposable.”

For a mere $35, Shitter will turn your Twitter stream into four rolls of toilet paper. You pay with PayPal, but it's unclear if they use recycled paper in the resulting toilet paper.

The site is belongs to a team of four developers who live in New York and Sydney, who call Collector’s Edition (CE). A prior CE project was themeaningofmate.com, which tried to explain to visitors how you could tell if "a bloke" was going to buy you a drink or slug you (more or less).

Founder David Gillespie said,

“Obviously this is fairly tongue in cheek, but we’re reasonably pleased we monetized Twitter in a way that avoided advertising. We all have other jobs, though would obviously like to make it a full-time thing. As you saw, The Meaning Of Mate was the first thing CE did, now this. The direction is still settling, but I think there’s some kind of course to chart around just trying to entertain people. I don’t know where the revenue is, it may very well wind up needing to be funded by brands when the right project comes along. I can’t imagine Kleenex having put their name to Shitter though!”

Interstingly, since the idea started to get some press, it also started to get some support. Angel investor and StockTwits founder Howard Lindzon Tweeted that he wants to invest in Shitter. He didn't say if he wanted that Tweet on some toilet paper, too, however.



Spike Lee re-Tweet of wrong address for George Zimmerman violated Twitter's ToS

It's a Tweet that shouldn't have been re-Tweeted. David and Elaine McClain, a couple in their 70s whose home is about four miles from where Trayvon Martin was shot by George M. Zimmerman, have been forced to flee to a hotel after a Tweeted message incorrectly giving their address instead of Zimmerman's. That wasn't the real FUBAR: the real problem came when it was re-Tweeted by Spike Lee, who has 250,000 followers.

Marcus Davonne Higgins, the 33-year-old Los Angeles man behind the original Tweet with the erroneous address, confused the McClain's son, William George Zimmerman, who once lived at the address, with George Michael Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin. According to TSG, Higgins then Tweeted the address to the Twitter accounts of Will Smith, 50 Cent, LeBron James, as well as to Spike Lee, but Lee is the only one who re-Tweeted it.

Elaine McClain said, "My youngest son, his last name is Zimmerman and his middle name is George. He [Spike Lee] definitely owes a big apology. All this is really scary and it's a shame. There's no reason they put our address out there without checking to see who lived there."

Higgins' original Tweet said,

"@SpikeLee EVERYBODY REPOST THIS George W. Zimmerman 159 Edgewater Circle Sanford, Florida 32773"

Upon learning of his mistake, Higgins' Tweeted the following:

"@d_pardee @SpikeLee GOD BLESS YOU I KNOW YOU HATE ME BUT I DON'T HATE YOU I DID APOLOGY FOR RETWEET THE WRONG ADDRESS"

It doesn't appear (at least from viewing his Twitter account) that Spike Lee has 'fessed up to the SNAFU. He has, however, taken to re-Tweeting some racist vitriol being spewed his way.

While some are asking if Lee or anyone else Tweeting such information should first confirm the legitimacy of it, it's already clear, however, that both Lee and Higgins and anyone else who re-Tweeted the original Tweet violated Twitter's ToS. It states: "You may not publish or post other people's private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission."

Whoops. Remember that, all you Twitter users.

SmartBargains.com