Aug 31, 2009

Google opens up Google Books to Sony’s eReader

Sony and Google’s tag-team tactics might not hurt Amazon and its Kindle reader, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. For who, exactly, we’re not so sure. Sony announced a bit ago that Google has opened up more than half-a-million of its books to Sony’s eReader. The catch? All of Google’s archived books are about as old as your granddad, if your granddad were 80-years-old.

The addition of Google’s archive of books brings the number of available titles to Sony’s eReader at around 600,000. Amazon offers roughly 240,000 titles at the moment, but these include recent works and almost all of the New York Times bestsellers.

Both Sony eReader models are cheaper than the Kindle at $300 (PRS-505) and $350 (PRS-700), respectively, but they lack WhisperNet for instant downloads among other notable features. On the flip side, Google announced that they plan to make the over 1.5 million public domain books available for mobile phones, which includes the iPhone and G1.

Spot the difference: Apple's new Snow Leopard OS

Apple gets a lot of flack for charging an arm and leg for its iPods, iPhones, accessories and especially its Mac computers.

Arch-rival Microsoft this year issued a faux white-paper research report, titled What Price Cool?, that even calculated what it called the "Apple Tax" - the premium consumers pay for the Apple logo. That might be the case for hardware, but, when it comes to software, the tables are turned.

Take the upgrade to Apple's Leopard (OS X 10.5) operating system, Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6), which was released on Friday. Apple is selling that upgrade for $39 - the same price it charges for a set of those ubiquitous white iPod/iPhone headphones (with remote and mike). With the upcoming Windows 7 operating system upgrade costing between $199 and $429, depending on the version, it looks like it's Microsoft that will be doing the taxing.

Bill would give president emergency control of Internet

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.

They're not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency. The new version would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" relating to "non-governmental" computer networks and do what's necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for "cybersecurity professionals," and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

Poor worker literacy 'hurting business'

ENDEMIC literacy and numeracy problems are having a dramatic effect on the productivity of Australian companies, according to one of the nation's biggest business groups. Launching a national program to tackle the impact of poor worker literacy and numeracy, Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the issue had become both a productivity and safety problem for business.

She said some workers could not read standard operating procedures, and used machinery inefficiently, sometimes resulting in products needing to be reworked and materials being wasted. The inability of some workers to read training materials made it difficult to give them new skills or prepare them for higher duties, she said. This hampered both individual career development and a firm's ability to introduce new equipment or processes.

Testing Older Drivers with software

If your driving is getting a bit worse as you grow older, it may be because of a natural decline in the brain’s ability to process visual information.

Some scientists believe that, as people age, their capability to rapidly grasp and act on what their eyes see can degrade. And one of the activities most affected is driving, a task that demands you simultaneously track multiple moving objects, often at the edge of your field of vision.

The decline of this capability may be one of the reasons the elderly have to stop driving. But this problem doesn’t affect only the oldest people. Some experts say that the speed and accuracy of the brain’s visual processing can begin to gradually decline in middle age or even earlier.

Now there’s a software program, for both PCs and Macs, that claims it can “train the brain to think and react faster on the road” by putting a user through brief, repetitive exercises aimed at bolstering his or her visual-processing prowess. It’s called DriveSharp, and is from a San Francisco-based company called Posit Science, which also produces other brain-training programs.

DriveSharp isn’t a driving simulator, but a pair of simple-looking visual memory games, plus assessment tests, that Posit Science says are based on published scientific research. The company says it purchased a training technique that researchers have proven to be effective at improving visual processing.

Posit Science makes some strong claims for DriveSharp. It asserts that people who use the program as directed (at least three times a week for 20 minutes at a time) can cut their “crash risk” by 50% and stop their cars 22 feet sooner at 55 miles per hour. It says these users can expand by 200% their “useful field of view,” the area within which you can take in details with a single glance.

And the company adds that, if you use DriveSharp as instructed for a total of 10 hours, its positive effects can last for several years. To back up these claims, Posit Science cites a number of scientific studies and articles published in well-known journals.

I’ve been testing the DriveSharp software, which costs $139 at the company’s Web site, or $99 from participating AAA Clubs. (The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has endorsed the product.) (US dollar prices)

My verdict is that it was easy to use, and it did indeed work on my ability to rapidly recall the color and position of multiple moving objects and of objects on the periphery of my vision. It intelligently adjusted to my performance, and gradually presented me with tougher tasks.

However, two major caveats are in order. First, I am neither a scientist nor a doctor, so I can’t vouch for the company’s claims about DriveSharp’s benefits or even the underlying problem it aims to alleviate. Secondly, I wasn’t able to test DriveSharp long enough to know if it actually made me a better driver.

When you first install the product, you are required to set up an account so your progress can be tracked. The software checks your computer’s video capability, suggests a distance you should sit back from the screen, and changes your screen resolution to one it deems optimal for the training. It then plays an introductory video explaining how it works.

Your first step for each of the two exercises is to take a tough assessment test to establish a baseline from which your progress is measured. DriveSharp doesn’t tell you how you’re progressing after every session, only after you take another assessment, which isn’t recommended until you’ve put in a few hours of work with the software.

Demand Sensing

What is Demand Sensing? According to AMR Research, “Demand sensing is the translation of downstream data with minimal latency to understand what is being sold, who is buying the product, and the impact of demand-shaping programs. These three demand elements are then translated into requirements to craft a profitable demand response through internal processes for demand translation.”¹

Terra Technology offers the first demand sensing solution. Terra’s Demand Sensing (DS) applies complex pattern recognition algorithms to downstream data to create an accurate prediction of demand. DS updates these daily forecasts every day as more information becomes available. Because the software responds to what is happening in your business right now, not just historical trends, forecast error typically drops by 50% or more.

Terra’s Demand Sensing solution is a bolt-on addition to traditional demand planning systems and is completely compatible with demand planning systems from all major ERP and supply chain vendors, including SAP, JDA/Manugistics and Oracle.

Young men's mindlessness starts at home: surgeon

ONE of Australia's leading neurosurgeons has blasted Victoria's ''epidemic'' of violence, and called for parents and teachers to take responsibility in teaching self-restraint to young men. Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, director of neurosurgery at The Alfred hospital, says the rise of community violence in the past five years has left him dealing with the often tragic consequences.

He has compiled a collection of brain scans for The Age, saying young people need to realise how just one blow to the head can be fatal, or lead to lifelong brain injury. ''I do get angry,'' he said. ''These incidents don't need to happen. We seem to have an epidemic of this urban violence at the moment. What's changed? People seem to be less controlled than they used to be.''

Aug 30, 2009

HTC Hero: an evolved object of lust

The HTC Hero has been an object of lust for some time now for gadget enthusiasts. Even from the earliest days of leaked hardware shots and blurry demo videos of its UI, smartphone fans seemed to agree that the company had finally achieved what has been missing in the world of Android. Namely, a polished and attractive device -- polished enough to go head-to-head with the iPhone -- that kept its open source heart.

So, here we are months later with an actual, bona fide Hero in our midst. Yes the reports were true, it is a beautiful device, both inside and out (though of course opinions differ on that chin). But does being a beautiful device mean Android is about to move to a bigger stage? Is HTC's spit-shine enough to overcome some of the hurdles that have plagued the platform? That question -- and more -- is answered in the text below, so read on for the full review.... (click here for more)

7 things Microsoft should learn from Linux...

I’m so excited about the release of Windows 7. Yes, really, an old Linux tragic like me can’t wait for Microsoft’s next-generation OS. But that doesn’t mean Microsoft should stop learning. Far from it, let’s consider the perfect number of moves Redmond can make to take a leaf out of Linux’s book – for the benefit of all.

The number 7 has held a special place in numerology and mythology for centuries. Wikipedia even has page explaining its significance at:

When Windows 7 hits the scene on October millions of people will be immersed in the word 7 for the foreseeable future. How do you make something perfect even better? You learn from your competitors... (click here for rest of excellent and thoughtful article)

Apple says it's not to blame for 'exploding' iPhones

Apple's iPhone may be the darling of the mobile-phone industry right now, but some users in France aren't singing its praises, claiming that the device explodes or cracks without warning.

However, after conducting an internal investigation into the cause of the broken touch-screen glass, Apple denies that there is an underlying iPhone flaw. In fact, Apple said that in all cases it investigated, some kind of force was applied to the iPhone, causing the glass to break, according to a BBC report Friday.

"The iPhones with broken glass that we have analyzed to date show that in all cases, the glass cracked due to an external force that was applied to the iPhone," Apple said in a statement cited by the BBC. Last Tuesday, in response to a European Commission investigation into accusations of overheating and exploding iPhones, Apple referred to its internal investigation, saying, "We are waiting to receive the iPhones from the customers.

Aug 28, 2009

Facebook to implement privacy changes

FACEBOOK users will be forced to revisit their privacy settings after a report found serious flaws in the way the site handles user data.

"All 250 million people have to go through an exercise in looking at their privacy and we think that's a good thing," Facebook director of international communications Debbie Frost told today.

"Some people set up their privacy two years ago and haven't thought about it since, so it's a good exercise to go through and make sure everyone's happy with what they've got – especially since sharing options have changed."

The move is part of the company's response to a year-long investigation by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada that revealed "serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates".

'Exploding iPhones': more French cases as Apple faces inquiry

Half a dozen new cases of "exploding iPhones" have emerged in France, as Apple faced an official inquiry and calls to come clean over possible risks linked to its wildly popular smartphone. An 80-year-old pensioner from the Paris suburbs said his iPhone screen cracked up in his hands, a day after a supermarket watchman claimed he was hurt in the eye when his screen suddenly shattered this week.

Nokia bets on Linux in iPhone battle

Nokia will try again to tackle Apple's iPhone in the top-end of the handset market with a bet on open-source Linux software, several industry sources said. Top handset maker Nokia will show its first high-end phone running on Maemo, a version of Linux, next week at the annual Nokia World event in Stuttgart, Germany, the sources said. But analysts said it would likely not become clear before next year at the earliest whether this would help Nokia achieve its aims.

World of Warcraft addicts to get in-game shrinks

World of Warcraft is so addictive that a psychiatrist is planning to send a team of counsellors into the game to treat players before they lose touch with the real world.

It comes after a report published by Sweden's Youth Care Foundation this year found World of Warcraft was the most dangerous game on the market and "the cocaine of the computer games world".

Richard Graham, a psychiatrist who treats adolescents at the Tavistock Clinic in London, believes that, just as casinos contribute to the treatment of compulsive gamblers, Blizzard, the creator of the online role playing game, should fund help for World of Warcraft addicts.

He said in an interview that the catalyst for his new project was a "disturbing" case of a young man who told him that, in the 3½ years he had been playing the game, he had clocked up 450 days of playing time.

Aug 27, 2009

Bebook ereader Your entire library in your hand

BeBook is an ebook reader that lets you read documents and books anywhere as you do on paper. Now you can take along as many books and documents as you like, on just one ebook reader which is small and light as a single book. Why BeBook ereader is amazing! - Unique paper like display, read even in bright sunlight - Long life battery, one charge will last 7.000 page turns!* - ... Specifications: - Dimensions: 184mm (l) x120mm (w) x10mm (h) - Weight: 220gr (incl. battery) - Display: ePaper, 600x800 pixels (6 inch

Mashable: Google + Sony = Linux of ebooks

Have you noticed that Sony has launched its best ebook reader a couple of days ago, with an AT&T 3G modem for fast wireless connection? Not by accident, GoogleGoogleGoogle now announced they’re offering over a million public domain books in EPUB format – the exact format that Sony’s Daily Edition reader likes.

To download a book, search for a title over at Google Books. Public domain titles will have a download link in the upper right corner. Which brings us to the first major difference between the Kindle and this Google-Sony open book strategy: while Amazon only offers 300,000 titles, Google’s million books aren’t, for the most part, the most attractive ones, and Sony’s own ebook library doesn’t offer a choice as good as Amazon – at least when it comes to modern titles.

Download a million free books

Over the years, we've heard a lot from people who've unearthed hidden treasures in Google Books: a crafter who uncovered a forgotten knitting technique, a family historian who discovered her ancestor once traveled the country with a dancing, roller-skating bear. The books they found were out of copyright and in the public domain, which meant they could read the full text and even download a PDF version of the book.

I'm excited to announce that starting today, Google Books will offer free downloads of these and more than one million more public domain books in an additional format, EPUB. By adding support for EPUB downloads, we're hoping to make these books more accessible by helping people around the world to find and read them in more places. More people are turning to new reading devices to access digital books, and many such phones, netbooks, and e-ink readers have smaller screens that don't readily render image-based PDF versions of the books we've scanned. EPUB is a lightweight text-based digital book format that allows the text to automatically conform (or "reflow") to these smaller screens. And because EPUB is a free, open standard supported by a growing ecosystem of digital reading devices, works you download from Google Books as EPUBs won't be tied to or locked into a particular device. We'll also continue to make available these books in the popular PDF format so you can see images of the pages just as they appear in the printed book.

3 from MIT among Technology Review's top young innovators

Three current MIT researchers and six alumni have been named to this year's TR 35, Technology Review magazine's annual compilation of the 35 top innovators worldwide under the age of 35. Jose Gomez-Marquez, Pranav Mistry and Erez Lieberman-Aiden were selected from more than 300 nominees by a panel of judges and the editorial staff of Technology Review.

"The TR35 is an elite group of accomplished young innovators who exemplify the spirit of innovation. Their work - spanning medicine, computing, communications, nanotechnology and more - is changing our world," said Technology Review Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Jason Pontin.

Gomez-Marquez, an instructor at MIT's Edgerton Center, was named as the TR 35's "humanitarian of the year" for the creation of practical medical devices for use in poor countries.

Gomez-Marquez said he was honored that his approach to appropriate medical technology had been recognized as meaningful, and he thanked his colleagues at D-Lab and the Edgerton Center for their support.

"Most medical devices that are donated into the developing world fail because they were never designed to work in harsh environments. We try to change that my making devices that are more appropriate, regardless of the infrastructure challenges often present in the developing world," Gomez-Marquez said. "To develop technologies that can heal is rewarding. To do it with an amazing group students, mentors, colleagues who make up the greater MIT community is a daily privilege."

Tombstoning condemned by UK

AN adrenalin craze where people jump from cliffs or high objects into the sea has been condemned by UK emergency services. "Tombstoning" has claimed the lives of at least 12 people in the UK in the past few years, while in 2005 Sydney bodyboarder Harry Dixon broke his legs while tombstoning in west Cornwall.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) is urging people to boycott the legal sport and is promoting a summer campaign warning of the dangers of tombstoning. "It's called tombstoning for a reason – get it wrong and you end up with a tombstone," Ray Barton, from the RNLI, told the BBC.

But the sport could receive more followers after fans recently posted a YouTube video boasting their "Tombstone tour of Scotland" – complete with maps and jump sites.

Michael Jackson Still Alive Conspiracy Theories Fueled by Fake Video

Amazingly, even with all the evidence to the contrary, some people out there believe pop icon Michael Jackson is still alive. Just like Elvis. Making the whole ridiculousness even worse, LiveLeak has an obviously faked video allegedly showing Michael Jackson alive and kicking hours after his death.


We couldn’t help but post this insanity just because the video is so badly done that only a true nut job would believe it. Even if Michael Jackson had faked his death and gotten the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office to go along with it - no way would he be so careless as to jump out of a van in plain view of the public. Of course, the video never shows the man’s face, just a bit of Michael Jackson-ish hair and clothing.

Come back now ragamuffins, drunks and pyschotics

The Shanghai government, along with neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, published a 20-page guide book this week to standardise signs and eliminate notoriously bad, and sometimes amusing, English translations. "A number of the English translations are quite baffling, others are simply awkward," Xue Mingyang, director of the Shanghai Education Commission, was quoted as telling the China Daily. The official campaign prompted local media to share favourite mistranslations.

At Shanghai's iconic Oriental Pearl Tower, visitors are warned "Ragamuffin, drunken people and psychotics are forbidden to enter", according to the Shanghaiist city blog.

A malfunctioning online translation tool may have helped a restaurant named "Translate server error" get its photo published in Tuesday's Oriental Morning Post. The sign's Chinese characters merely read "Restaurant".

Aug 26, 2009

Swerving to avoid animals 'a major cause of crashes'

Swerving to avoid hitting an animal on the road is a major cause of serious and fatal accidents, researchers have found. Even in Australia's urban areas, most drivers have at some time rounded a bend in a road to find an animal in their lane. For many drivers the immediate response is to swerve to avoid the animal.

While that may save the life of the animal, it's not necessarily the best tactic to protect the driver. Daniel Ramp is a research fellow at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales. The researchers conducted a study aimed at quantifying the number of injuries and deaths caused by road accidents involving animals.

Netbook with Windows 7 for each Year 9 student in NSW

The NSW Government has started rolling out 70,000 netbooks to Year 9 students and teachers as part of the Federal digital education revolution initiative.

Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard and NSW Minister for Education and Training, Verity Firth visited Fairvale High School in Sydney's west to see how the laptops would be integrated into lessons.

According to Gillard, the netbooks came with "$5,500 of the latest Microsoft and Adobe software".

This included the new Microsoft operating system, Windows 7, "making NSW students and teachers among the very first in the world to have access to the finalised software", the Redmond-based giant said in a statement.

Passengers surf to work on i-Commute bus

AUSTRALIA'S first commuter bus that allows passengers to surf the internet has been launched in Adelaide.

The i-Commute bus, which will be trialled over the next six months, also offers free gaming programs, real-time transport information and news provided on two LCD screens.

Passengers can check the screens to find out the distance and time for upcoming stops and also receive information about what they'll find when they get there.

The system has been developed and funded by a coalition of technology companies with internet access to be provided through a free WiFi link.

Bluetooth technology will be used to allow commuters to use mobile phones and other devices to access gaming and other information.

The system has taken 18 months to develop at a cost of about $500,000.

Snow Leopard, More Snore Than Snarl

There is little reason for most users to upgrade to Apple's next-generation Snow Leopard operating system this Friday, but at least the price is reasonable. Or is it?

People with multiple Macs can upgrade up to five of them with using the $49 Snow Leopard "family pack." That's what I have ordered and it is hard to complain about upgrading the OS for $10-a-machine. (Single licenses cost $29).

But, I must complain since the real benefit for current users, Microsoft Exchange Server compatibility is something Apple has been claiming to have for years. It never worked right, at least not for me, which explains the need for Snow Leopard.

Watch out, however, because Snow Leopard is only compatible with Exchange Server 2007. If your company isn't using that version--and many are not--Snow Leopard won't help you.

My reading of the Snow Leopard coverage suggests that while I may regain some hard drive space and there are a few mildly interesting business features (detailed here by Tony Bradley) that I probably won't notice much once the new OS is installed.

When Apple talks about the new under-the-hood technologies in Snow Leopard, they seem to be talking about future hardware running future applications, not about cool stuff my two-year-old iMac will be doing very soon.

I don’t consider to be Snow Leopard in any way competitive with Microsoft Windows 7 in terms of features or functionality. Their timing vaguely coincides, but I don't think they charge the competitive landscape too very much.

Brazen models conceal the truth

Heard the one about the physicist, chemist and economist stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat but a tin of baked beans? The physicist suggests forcing it open by hurling the tin against a rock at the correct velocity. The chemist proposes lighting a fire to cause it to explode.

The economist shakes her head and assures them they are going about it the wrong way: ''First we must assume we have a can opener.''

Economists' predictions are only as good as the models and assumptions underpinning them.

The debate raging about the Federal Government's emissions trading scheme shows clearly how ''economic modelling'' can be perverted by vested interests to suit their own purposes.

Industry groups have jumped on the economic modelling bandwagon with increasing enthusiasm, attempting to hijack a range of public debates, and drive threatening policies off the nearest cliff.

Before the last election the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry paid a Canberra consultancy, Econtech, to model the impact of Labor's proposed industrial relations changes. It found 316,000 jobs were at risk. This was later discredited after it emerged the model assumed a return to 1980s style centralised wage fixing, which was not Labor's proposal. This did not stop a coalition of business groups running television ads based on the discredited findings.

More recently, lobby groups have turned to emissions trading, taking an already complex topic and miring it with dodgy models and misleading presentations of results.

This month the Australian Food and Grocery Council said the Government's scheme would push up food prices by about 5 per cent, based on ''modelling'' conducted by the big retailers, which contrasted with Treasury's estimate of a 0.1 per cent rise. Given the council has refused to make public any modelling to support its claim, we can only assume this was a scare campaign.

Other industry tactics are more subtle. A common distortion is to claim a policy will destroy existing jobs, rather than create fewer jobs against what might otherwise have been the case without the scheme.

Aug 25, 2009

Is Snow Leopard just a cheap Windows 7 knockoff?

"Where's the beef?" That's the idiom that jumps to mind as I work my way through Galen Gruman's "The 7 best features in Mac OS X Snow Leopard." I knew the features list would be lean -- Apple has deliberately undersold Snow Leopard by pitching it as a relatively minor release -- but please! Gruman's article reads like a laundry list of borrowed features and derivative works. It's as if someone at Apple grabbed a copy of the Windows 7 beta and simply Xeroxed the release notes.

For example:

64-bitness: Yippee,! Apple finally goes 64-bit -- BFD! As a Windows user, I've been livin' la vida 64-bit for more than three years. Vista was the first mainstream desktop OS to deliver a viable 64-bit experience, and Windows 7 has taken this migration further by making it the preferred flavor for business users.

[ See how Windows 7 RTM stacks up against Vista and XP in InfoWorld's tests. | Get ready for Windows 7: Download InfoWorld's 21-page PDF Windows 7 Deep Dive report. ]

Meanwhile, Apple can't even deliver a fully 64-bit implementation. Snow Leopard boots into a 32-bit kernel by default -- something about a lack of 64-bit device drivers, which is ironic when you consider how small a hardware ecosystem Apple must govern when compared to Microsoft and its burden of having to run on just about anything with an Intel-compatible CPU.

Exposé Dock Integration: This one's a joke, right? Am I to understand that Apple is just getting around to adding this? Microsoft has been offering this type of functionality (aka thumbnail preview) for years, and Windows 7 has taken the concept further with Aero Peek, Shake, and Snap. It sounds like Apple's Xerox machine suffered a paper jam with this one -- or perhaps it's just stuck in one of those famous Mac OS X infinite loops.

Expanded PDF Preview: If this constitutes a "feature," then Apple must really be grasping! I mean, Windows has supported PDF file preview -- via an installable ifilter module -- ever since Desktop Search debuted pre-Vista. In fact, the ability to seamlessly preview third-party content has been a staple of the Windows experience for years. So while I'm glad to see Apple finally getting on the ball with its PDF handling (I hear the updated viewer lets you basically do away with the piggish Adobe Reader for most common tasks), I'm still utterly stunned by the fact that this is even an issue. Provide a free (i.e. not trialware) XPS document viewer with Mac OS X and then maybe I'll get excited.

Robofish Swim Where Humans Can’t

Schools of the mini robofish could be used to detect pollution or inspect underwater structures such as sunken boats and submerged oil pipes. Unlike other models of robotic fish, which are several feet long and contain hundreds or thousands of parts, the new five-to-eight–inch prototypes have only 10 components and cost just a few hundred dollars each.

“The main drawback of traditional robots is that they have way too many parts and are very complex,” said mechanical engineer Pablo Alvarado of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who helped design the fish. “Traditional robots may work in the lab, but if you take them into a regular environment, like the ocean, they wouldn’t last more than a half hour.”

Alvarado and colleagues wanted to try a simpler approach to robot design. Instead of patching together multiple mechanical parts, they built each fish using a single piece of soft, flexible polymer. After assembling the motor inside a special fish-shaped mold, they poured liquid polymer around the mold and let it solidify. That means there’s no chance of water seeping in between separate parts and ruining the motor in the fish’s belly, Alvarado said.

“These materials are very resilient,” he said. “Water can’t do much to them and they can survive very high temperatures. Unless another fish eats them, they could go on and on.”

UK file-sharers to be 'cut off'

The UK government has published new measures that could see people who illegally download films and music cut off from the net. The amendment to the Digital Britain report would see regulator Ofcom given greater powers to tackle pirates. The technical measures are likely to include suspending the net accounts of "hardcore copyright pirates".

It is believed that Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has intervened personally to beef up the policy. The Digital Britain report, published in June, gave Ofcom until 2012 to consider whether technical measures to catch pirates were necessary.

Shot self in foot....

Plaxico Burress said in a television interview he didn't realize he'd accidentally shot himself until he saw the blood dripping onto his sneaker. In an excerpt of an ESPN interview broadcast Monday night, the former New York Giants receiver said the shooting happened about five minutes after he entered the Latin Quarter night club in Manhattan.

"I take two or three steps and like my pants are wet," Burress said in the interview. "I had some Chuck Taylor's (Converse sneakers) and I looked down and the top of my shoe is red."

Burress said he immediately turned to then teammate Antonio Pierce and asked the middle linebacker to take him to the hospital. "And he was like 'Why?" Burress said. "I said I just think I shot myself, and he was like 'Noooo!"

Can Humans Cope with Information Overload

I recently finished Tyler Cowen’s latest book, Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World. Like everything he writes, this book is worth reading and it will be of interest to those who follow technology policy debates since Cowen makes a passionate case for “Internet optimism” in the face of recent criticisms of the Internet and the Information Age in general.

Cowen is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and the co-author, along with Alex Tabarrok, of the wonderful blog. And if you haven’t read Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture, stop what you’re doing and go get yourself a copy right now. Brilliant book. Compared to that book, Create Your Own Economy is a difficult book to summarize. Seriously, this book is all over the place… but in a good way. Even though it sometimes feels like “Tyler’s Miscellaneous Ramblings,” those ramblings will keep you engaged and entertained. Cord Blomquist did a pretty good job of summarizing the general themes of the book in this post two months ago when he noted that, “despite cultural reflexes that would have us do otherwise, we should embrace… new technologies as means to be more selective about what information we absorb and therefore welcome the increased volume of bytes into our lives. In his new book, [Cowen] explores technology as a vehicle to help you determine what you really value, not a series of a email-powered torture devices.” That’s a pretty good summation, but the book is about much more than that.

Instead of a full-blown review, I want to focus on some of passages from Cowen’s book about coping with information overload, which I think readers here might find of interest. In doing so, I will contrast Cowen’s views with those of John Freeman, who just penned “A Manifesto for Slow Communication” in The Wall Street Journal. As we will see, Cowen and Freeman’s differences exemplify the heated ongoing debate taking place among “Internet optimists & pessimists,” which I have discussed here many times before.

My favorite chapter of Cowen’s book is entitled, “Why Modern Culture is Like Marriage, In All Its Glory.” In it, Cowen takes on those who claim citizens are now being overwhelmed by a deluge of digital information, or are suffering from “information overload.” In particular, Cowen addresses criticisms such as those leveled by social critics like Nick Carr, who penned a widely-read Atlantic article last year entitled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” .... (More)

Apple increases risk

A study suggests apple-shaped women with a waist bigger than 88cm have a higher risk of developing asthma - even if they have a normal body weight. Being overweight is well known to raise the risk of asthma.

But the latest study suggests that the amount of weight women carry around the abdomen might be particularly important. The study, by the Northern California Cancer Centre at Berkeley, appears in the journal Thorax.

Sony PS3 sales to jump 40-60% post-price cut

The NPD Group has said that the price cut on Sony's PlayStation 3 could boost sales of the system by up to 60 per cent in September.

Sony slashed USD 100 / EUR 100 off the price of the console last week, and unveiled a new model to hit the market next month. "The USD 299 price point is important to getting to a point where the next segment of price-conscious consumers can jump into the market and it most certainly will re-energise sales of the platform," Anita Frazier of the NPD told InformationWeek.

"We would expect to see in the range of a 40 per to 60 per cent unit sales increase when September sales are reported."

Such a surge in sales may not be enough for the console to take the lead in the US however, with Frazer noting that other consoles are expected to receive a price cut in the near term.

"Content is still the key motivator of a hardware purchase decision. Other systems might too take a price cut, so there's a lot playing into which system tops sales any particular month," she said.

Toyota Augemented Reality presentation

iQ Reality - Experiece the new iQ in 3D

Toyota have used augmented reality technology to create a 3D interactive experience of the new iQ car which you can download here.
Toyota iQ is a radical new small car and augmented reality technology allows you to interact with the car to discover its agility and interior space.

Nokia to sell netbooks..

Nokia has unveiled its Nokia Booklet 3G. The "full-function" personal computer with high-speed mobile internet access capability uses Microsoft’s Windows software, Nokia said. Nokia didn't reveal pricing details, but the device appears to be a high-end version of netbook computers that have become popular because of their mobility and low price tags.

The new entry into the PC market comes as Nokia seeks new revenue streams to offset six quarters of declining average selling prices for its handsets. Among the company's initiatives: launching services like the Ovi music download store and buying mobile navigation company Navteq in July 2008.

Lethal drug dose killed Jackson

Pop star Michael Jackson's death was caused by lethal levels of the powerful anaesthetic propofol, according to findings by the Los Angeles chief medical examiner unsealed in court documents in Houston today. Jackson suffered cardiac arrest and died on June 25 at age 50. Since then, a police investigation into his death appears to have focused on the use of prescription drugs and the role of doctors who treated him, including his personal doctor, Conrad Murray.

"The Los Angeles Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner, Dr Sathyavagiswaran, indicated that he had reviewed the preliminary toxicology results and his preliminary assessment of Jackson's cause of death was due to lethal levels of propofol (diprivan)," according to a search warrant affidavit for Murray issued by California. The document was released by the Harris County District Clerk in Houston, where Murray has offices, which US agents raided on July 22 in a search for evidence of manslaughter.

Aug 24, 2009

Canadian health looks up to Australia

It is commonplace, if not universal, for general practitioners (GPs) in 10 countries around the world to use computers for clinical purposes. However, this is not yet the case in Canada, despite growing efforts to introduce information technology (IT) into our health care system. Why have GPs in other countries adopted IT to a significantly greater degree than their Canadian counterparts?

In 2005 Canada Health Infoway undertook a study to identify the contributing factors behind the high rate of IT adoption and use among GPs in 10 countries: England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Findings were based on data collected from scientific studies; reports from governments, professional associations and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); and interviews with physicians and government representatives.

The study identified a number of contributing factors and reasons why GPs in these countries have more readily welcomed IT in their medical practices. These include:

  • financial support from government, ranging from a one-time grant to ongoing funding tied to use of the technology for predetermined purposes
  • "pay for performance" incentives or quality targets that can only be reached easily with automated records
  • support by medical associations or licensing authorities
  • leadership by peers
  • the existence of a national IT health strategy and a unifying body
  • certification of vendor systems by governments or medical associations
  • change management or other support
No single variable explains why GPs in other countries have adopted IT to such a significant degree. Clinical applications vary widely by country, and there is no single overwhelming benefit to prompt physicians to use computers for clinical care. However, electronic transmission of prescription orders and laboratory results was almost universally available

A new Apple laptop isn’t a necessity

More than a third of the students surveyed by Retrevo reported wanting small, lightweight notebooks this year, and more than half had a budget under £450. Retrevo, a product search engine, says it polled more than 300 of its 4 million monthly visitors and found that the “majority of student laptop shoppers will not consider buying a Mac,” the company reported in an 18 Aug statement.

According to Retrevo, 34 percent of students said they want laptops that are small and lightweight, while 49 percent wanted full-size PC laptops. Price was also a considerable factor. “While Apple has done well historically in the education market, 2009 marks the dawn of the netbook,” said Retrevo CEO Vipin Jain, in a statement.

“Students told us they wanted longer battery life, smaller size and a lighter laptop. [Fifty-eight] percent of them plan on spending less than $750.00 (£450). Only 18 percent have a budget over $1,000. Netbooks are affordable; some costing only $170. In contrast, Apple laptops start at $949.” Jain added: “At a time when many people are experiencing economic hardship, having a new Apple laptop isn’t a necessity.”

British e-health on critical list

So what went wrong? Too much ambition, too much speed, too much centralisation, too little local ownership and not enough choice have been just some of the problems.

In hindsight, it is easy to see why the programme was set up the way it was - with big central contracts and a one-size-fits-all central offering. For a start, while there had been some local successes, the health service had also had its share of IT disasters when things were run locally.

"The arguments for centralisation were first that all these systems had to be able to talk to each other," says someone who was closely involved in the government's original decision to launch the programme. "Second, there were powerful arguments for economies of scale if the system was bought centrally. And, third, the NHS had a long history at local level of taking ringfenced money, whether for IT or other projects, and finding ways of spending it on something else.

"Looking back, it was the wrong thing to do. It was right to centralise standards for communication and for what should be in the record. It was right to use centralised purchasing power. But the next step, that the whole programme had to be centralised, did not have to flow from that. It proved to be a mistake."

With a staggeringly ambitious goal to get the first electronic records running just three years down the line - when what was to be in them had yet to be fully defined - Richard Granger, the then director, decided that the fragmented and small providers of IT still in the NHS hospital market did not have the scale or industrial muscle to deliver.

Never miss a word with Sony's new range of digital notetakers

Sony Australia has released its new range of entry-level and high-end digital notetakers, both incorporating a lightweight design, high quality recording and full-function display.
The entry-level ICD-BX700 notetaker provides up to 280 hours of recording capacity via its 1GB flash memory and features a user friendly design with a large LCD display. Featuring Voice Operated Recording (VOR), which starts and stops recording automatically, silent breaks will no longer fill your notetakers memory.

"Our entry-level digital notetakers offer first time users a simple and intuitive way to record a class or meeting," said Alistair Miranda, Assistant Product Manager, Personal Audio. Additional features of the ICDBX700 include digital pitch control, stereo microphone jack and Super High Quality (SHQ) recording mode.”

The high-end ICD-SX series uses a combination of three integrated microphones to ensure every recording is detailed and crystal clear. Features also include a low frequency filter, index button for 'bookmarking' during recording to make it easier to find important moments and a digital pitch control for optimum voice quality during playback. Voice activated recording is also standard on all models. Most impressive of the SX Series is its ability to record in Linear PCM. In doing this, the SX Series is able to recreate CD quality recordings, making it the perfect tool for musicians and professionals.

Sony debuts HD security cameras

Sony has unveiled a new range of high definition pan tilt zoom (PTZ) security cameras designed for surveillance and applications such as identification and motion detection. The SNC-RH series are internet protocol (IP) network security cameras that offer HD surveillance and the ability to pan 360 degrees.

HD images can then be distributed using H.264 video technology at up to 30 frames per second. Sony Australia’s video security product manager, Tony Lagan, said HD technology suits the security industry well because, although existing cameras give a lot of “floor and ceiling” pictures, HD provides a “nice wide angle”.

“We are increasing the resolution three to four times to gain clearer images and HD provides better facial recognition,” Lagan said.

Doctors and pharmacists refuse to cooperate

The cards are expected to be used initially in identifying patients and improving the processing of health insurance claims.

The insurance companies say that they are ready for the cards, whose beta versions have recently met national security and privacy regulations for a nationwide rollout. However, the 80 million policy holders will not be able to have their cards issued unless doctors and pharmacists install necessary equipments to read the cards.

So far, they have refused to purchase such systems, saying that the paper process works better and faster for them.

There is no federal government mandate for installation of the equipments, developed under a joint programme by the health ministry and the public health insurance companies.

The concern, as voiced by many health IT professionals, is that busy clinicians and pharmacists would not want to change their workflow for a new system which might run into technical problems. This is despite the fact that many working in the field acknowledge the security and privacy benefits of such a card system.

While many hospitals in the country are currently in the midst of rolling out EMR, says Martin Peuker, Deputy CIO of Berlin’s Charite Hospital, the government’s push to roll out nationwide e-health cards may mean ‘too much technology too fast’.

Every day, we have this discussion,” Peuker recalls the refining of his hospital’s EMR implementation, which has been ongoing for several years. “They say, it would be so much faster to do it all on paper.” The new card, with the user’s photo and basic health information such as prescription data stored electronically, will replace the country’s existing health insurance card. More medical data is planned to be added in the future.

The old card only displays the name, date of birth and insurance company of the holder.

The health ministry says it is still confident that the cards can be rolled out by the end of this year, as planned.

Sony's vision for PlayStation

SONY is pursuing allegiances with Australian television, film and print companies after unveiling plans last week to transform its PlayStation gaming console into a digital media device.

Sony Computer Entertainment Australia chief executive Michael Ephraim told Media the local operation was following its parent company in seeking out relationships with local content providers to shift the consumer's view of the platform from a games machine to a fully functional content platform.

The company is also hoping to tap into growing demand in Australia for a fully portable digital reader -- similar to Amazon's Kindle in the US and Britain -- by changing the core function of the PlayStation Portable to allow it to be used as a reader.

From the beginning of next week, cheaper, slimmer new PlayStation 3 units will be available in Australia, with more than $100 being slashed from the cost of the unit.

Are feral robots a bug or a feature?

Lew Tucker, vice president and Chief Technology Officer of cloud computing at Sun Microsystems, foresees applications that are entirely self-sufficient... and don't need humans
Click here see video of why

Expert finds security hole in his coffee maker

An Australian man has discovered security holes in his internet-connected coffee maker that could allow a remote attacker to not only take over his Windows XP-based PC but also make his coffee too weak. Craig Wright, a risk advisory services manager at professional services firm BDO, found several security holes, including a buffer overflow in the internet connection software that links his Jura F90 coffee maker to his PC.

Once connected to the internet, the high-end coffee maker, which retails for nearly US$2,000 on Amazon, lets you do things like set the strength of your coffee and get remote diagnostic help over the internet without having to send the appliance in for service. Wright posted the information on the vulnerabilities, and the fact that there is no patch available yet, to the BugTraq security e-mail list on Tuesday. A US-based public relations representative for the coffee maker said she would try to reach spokespeople in the Switzerland headquarters for comment.

A Wii shock to the system for parents

When Matt White bought a Wii video game for his 16-year-old son, he thought its MA15+ rating and ''Strong Horror Violence" warnings were par for the course. The game, House of the Dead - Overkill, is renowned for holding the Guinness World Records title for most F-words in the history of video games: 189 in total, or more than one a minute.

But Matt (not his real name) is no prude. His son has had, "lots of MA games before, so we thought we knew what to expect, violence (against zombies, so that's OK). [There] really should have been a language warning too, but … I expect strong language in an MA15+ game."

What shocked Matt and his son, and led them to contact me, was the, "lack of warning of strong sexual themes", especially a creepy Bates-motel style incest theme between one of the protagonists and his ancient crone of a mother, which culminates in an unspeakable final scene in which he climbs into her giant zombie womb soon after she is killed, complete with disgusting sound effects. No apologies for the spoiler.

"We've returned the game for a refund," Matt says, "but what has been seen can't be unseen. Really, what is the Office of Film and Literature Classification doing letting this stuff through on video games without even a warning?"

Good question.

Portal Wars II: When Search Engines Attack

I love the current escalation in the battle of the search engines. Since Google came out of nowhere a few years ago and ate all the other search engines for lunch, the response from that camp has been less than impressive. With their recent efforts, Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves have finally figured out what it is that makes Google so successful (and Microsoft wants to take a stab at it too).

It's the user experience, stupid.

Advances on the internet and the web are typically heralded as technology-driven. Robert Morris from IBM argued last year at Etech 2002 that -- and I'm paraphrasing from memory here -- most significant advances in software are actually advances in user experience, not in technology. Mosaic was not an advancement in technology over TBL's original browser. Blogger is a highly-specialized FTP client. IM is IRC++ (or IRC for Dummies, depending on your POV). The advantages that these applications offered people were user experience-oriented, not technology-oriented.

Google's success in the search space due to their focus on user experience has lent significant credibility to this way of thinking, so much so that their competitors are now scrambling to catch up on those terms. As someone who deals with user experience professionally, it's great to see this happening.

Users' love affair with iPhone stumps Mobile World panel

A blue-ribbon panel of human behavior and technology experts at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain agreed that the best recent advance in the mobile telecommunications user space came not from a mobile telecom company but from Apple Inc. — the iPhone.

Anup Murarka, director of technical marketing for Adobe, cited a study showing that 77 percent of iPhone purchasers described themselves as "very satisfied" with their user experience.

In an ominous note for mobile operators, the iPhone respondents credited their happy experience not to AT&T, the channel through which iPhone services were delivered in the U.S, but to Apple, the device maker.

The panel, whose title was It's the User Experience, Stupid agreed that iPhone represents a model for mobile operators to follow, but they reached little agreement on how to follow.

31% jump in identity fraud to steal tax refund

CYBER criminals are stealing Australians' identities online to claim their tax refunds.

And a new wave of "phishing" scams uses bogus Australian Taxation Office communications to trick people into revealing personal details.

The ATO has issued warning to taxpayers after a 31 per cent jump in the number of e-security incidents affecting tax office systems. With 90 per cent of tax returns now done online, the tax office said stolen personal information could be used by criminals to claim fraudulent refunds.

"The greatest cyber-crime vulnerability that the tax office faces is loss of revenue or information through identity fraud," the agency said in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry. Other cyber scams were aimed at harvesting personal information such as passwords and banking details, which could be used to drain victims' accounts.

In one case, a Ukraine-based server hosted a near-perfect copy of the ATO website seeking personal information.

Victims were lured to the site by a bogus email offering a $9500 tax refund.

Microsoft Clearflow aims to Improve Traffic Reports

The current traffic report system used by Microsoft on can’t tell you much about traffic on city streets. They only have highways (just like Yahoo or Google, to be fair) and therefore the system isn’t of much help for something other than “should I hit that road now?” or “how bad is it going to be”?.

With Clearflow, users will really know if there is a better route outside the highway network. Microsoft will sample more data from volunteers providing GPS data that is analyzed by Microsoft to create a road traffic conditions “pattern” that could be used to get a “best shot” at guessing what current road conditions are on any streets. The ultimate data sampling would be to query data from all devices like GPS, phones, traffic cameras and road sensors to have a true global view of a city’s traffic.

Just like any statistical measurement, the sampling size is what really matters. If Microsoft can get enough data, this will work. After all, companies like Dash are already doing something like this. There no way around it: this is the future of traffic reports.

Scientists fear a revolt by killer robots

A ROBOT that makes a morning cuppa, a fridge that orders the weekly shop, a car that parks itself. Advances in artificial intelligence promise many benefits, but scientists are privately so worried they may be creating machines which end up outsmarting — and perhaps even endangering — humans that they held a secret meeting to discuss limiting their research. At the conference, held behind closed doors in Monterey Bay, California, leading researchers warned that mankind might lose control over computer-based systems that carry out a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting on the phone, and have already reached a level of indestructibility comparable with a cockroach.

“These are powerful technologies that could be used in good ways or scary ways,” warned Eric Horvitz, principal researcher at Microsoft who organised the conference on behalf of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

According to Alan Winfield, a professor at the University of the West of England, scientists are spending too much time developing artificial intelligence and too little on robot safety. “We’re rapidly approaching the time when new robots should undergo tests, similar to ethical and clinical trials for new drugs, before they can be introduced,” he said. The scientists who presented their findings at the International Joint Conference for Artificial Intelligence in Pasadena, California, last month fear that nightmare scenarios, which have until now been limited to science fiction films, such as the Terminator series, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Minority Report, could come true.

Microsoft Artifical Intelligence by 2010

According to the Chief at Game developer THQ, Brian Farrell, the system for the Xbox 360 will be out late 2010. When asked about market changes and they upcoming year on a conference call he said that Natal from Microsoft is a "Platform addiction, coming late next year"

The motion sensing technology relies on a 3D webcam which detects the movement and face of the player. The 1.3 megapixel camera used will be supplied by hardware manufacturer Aptima.

This system, if successful, is being heralded as a revolution in gaming by games publications and is tipped to be on-par with the popularity of the Nintendo Wii.

Call for debate over robitic warfare

Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield said that a push toward more robotic technology used in warfare would put civilian life at grave risk. Technology capable of distinguishing friend from foe reliably was at least 50 years away, he added.

However, he said that for the first time, US forces mentioned resolving such ethical concerns in their plans. "Robots that can decide where to kill, who to kill and when to kill is high on all the military agendas," Professor Sharkey said at a meeting in London.

"The problem is that this is all based on artificial intelligence, and the military have a strange view of artificial intelligence based on science fiction."

Scientists plot AI that learns from mistakes

Scientists at Oregon State University are hoping to improve artificial intelligence with a project the uses "rich interaction" to teach machines when they make mistakes. The researchers claim the project could lead to a computer that wants to "communicate with, learn from, and get to know you better as a person".

The software relies on computer users telling the machine when and why it has made an error in communication or logic so that it will automatically update its code in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. "We want to develop algorithms that will allow the end user to ask the computer why it did something, read its response, and then explain why that was a mistake," says Weng-Keen Wong, a computer science professor on the project

The Borg lives: BBN gets $30 million for artificial intelligence wizard

Developing a an artificial intelligence system that can read, learn and develop knowledge about all manner of digital material in a quick, cost effective way sounds like a bit of a pipe dream. But those are some of the lofty items that are now on BBN Technology's plate as the firm this week got $29.7 million from the Air Force to develop a prototype machine reading system that transforms prose into knowledge that can be interpreted by an artificial intelligence application.

The prototype is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Machine Reading Program (MRP) that wants to develop systems that can capture knowledge from naturally occurring text and transform it into the formal representations used by AI reasoning systems.

The idea is that such an intelligent learning system could gather and analyze information from the Web such as international technological advances or plans and rhetoric of political organizations and unleash a wide variety of new military and civilian AI applications from intelligent bots to personal tutors according to DARPA.

As digitized text from library books world wide becomes available, new avenues of cultural awareness and historical research will be enabled. With techniques for effectively handling the incompatibilities between natural language and the language of formal inference, a system could, in principal, be constructed that maps between natural and formal languages in any subject domain, DARPA said.

"Strength is irrelevant, resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours." -The Borg

'Kidney belt' for dialysis patients

A battery-operated artificial "kidney belt" which can be worn by patients is being tested by researchers. Scientists hope the 10lb device will allow patients with failed kidneys to free themselves from dialysis machines. Currently patients have to spend hours each week hooked up to the bulky machines, which take over kidney function to extract unwanted substances from the body.

The new Wearable Artificial Kidney provides dialysis round-the-clock while the patient is able to walk, work or sleep. "We believe that the Wearable Artificial Kidney will not only reduce the mortality and misery of dialysis patients, but will also result in significant reduction in the cost of providing viable health care," said Dr Victor Gura, who heads the US team at the University of California at Los Angeles. The device is worn as a belt and powered by two nine volt batteries.

Aug 23, 2009

Yahoo! to set up cloud computing data center in Taiwan

Yahoo!, paving the way to offering services based on cloud computing technology, will set up a cloud computing data center in Taiwan in line with its plans to remodel its data centers around the world into such centers, according to the company's senior vice president Shelton Shugar for cloud computing in Taipei on August 20.

The establishment of the cloud computing data center in Taiwan will be based on the existing data center of Yahoo! Kimo (Yahoo! Taiwan) through changing servers and adding new equipment, with completion scheduled for 2010, Shugar indicated.

In the Asia region, Singapore is also selected for setting up a cloud computing data centers in addition to Taiwan, Shugar noted.

Apple's gigantic new data center foreshadows a cloudy future

We’ve heard about Google, Microsoft, and Amazon going on a data center building spree. It’s one of the worst kept secrets in the technology business — even though all three attempt to be as discreet about it as possible. Nevertheless, it makes perfect sense for them. Their cards are on the table. We know they plan to invest heavily in Web-based services over the next decade.

On the other hand, reports that Apple is about to break ground on a new data center in Maiden, North Carolina that is even bigger than the behemoths being built by Microsoft, Google, and Amazon is startling, to say the least. Let’s take a look at what we know about Apple’s new data center and speculate on what Apple might be planning for it.

Aug 22, 2009

Bartz, Ballmer And Bing

The new Yahoo!-Microsoft 10-year deal--by which Yahoo! will adopt the MS Bing search engine and Microsoft will take over the global selling of premium search advertising for both companies--is a reminder of what veteran business professionals can accomplish ... especially in desperation.

In case you've lost track of the byzantine history of the negotiations between these two companies, here's a quick summary:

In February 2008, Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ) finally faced the reality that, at No. 3 in Internet search, it was going to lose the race to dominate the multibillion-dollar search engine business to Google ( GOOG - news - people ), the latter having run up a nearly 80% market share. In what appeared to be one final shot at staying in the game--and perhaps betting, not without reason, that a high-flying youngster like Google might stumble--Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decided to make a run at buying the third player in the search game, struggling Yahoo! ( YHOO - news - people ), the distant No. 2 company in search. Microsoft had tried to buy Yahoo! several times in the previous years, but now it went for a hostile takeover.

The strategy was met with mixed reviews by industry insiders. On the one hand, it was an unexpectedly bold play by Microsoft, a company long since written off as too big, too old and too slow to effectively compete in the fast-moving 21st- century tech world. Its bid for Yahoo! showed the world that Ballmer&co. were still willing to think big, and not just collect royalties on Windows and MS Office. Further, with the economy still strong and with a lot of cash on hand, buying Yahoo! also seemed like a fairly safe play: At worst, given the enduring loyalty of several hundred million regular Yahoo! users, it would simply be buying safe added market share in the search business.

On the other hand, the offer price--it reached more than $45 billion--was shocking. After all, Microsoft and Yahoo! were trailing so far behind Google for a reason: Their search products just weren't that good, and Google had brilliantly captured the Zeitgeist of the era. So, the odds that bolting two losers together would create a winner were slim to none, even if Google did manage to slip up.

HTC Hero's Teflon Coating Makes the iPhone Feel Like Junk

Yesterday I held the new HTC Hero next to my iPhone. Not only the new Android handset has a surprisingly cool design—straight out of JJ Abrams' Star Trek or Kubrick's 2001—but it kicks the iPhone's plastic ass.

Simply put, the Teflon-coated back just feels and looks a lot better than the iPhone's—now crappy looking, I admit—plastic back. The Hero's polytetrafluoroethylene—the technical name for DuPont's Teflon—coating feels perfect in your hand. It doesn't appear to get any skin oil at all. No greasy fingerprints, just a perfect matte finish no matter how much I touched it.

It feels and looks like a white thermal tile out of NASA's shuttle.

The iPhone's plastic finish, on the other side, is a fingerprint magnet that looks as cheap as any Chinese knockoff after holding it for a few seconds. The Hero wins hands down on appearance, even while its front is too complicated for my taste. For a company like Apple—which takes such pride in their design and manufacturing—this is bad. For a consumer like me, this sucks.

HTC Hero smartphone

Just the third Google Android mobile phone to be released in Australia, HTC's Hero smartphone takes the platform to new heights. It follows on from the HTC Dream and the HTC Magic with Google. Featuring HTC's Sense user interface, the Hero is without doubt the closest challenger yet to Apple's iPhone 3GS, leaving both the Dream and the Magic in its wake.

The HTC Hero we reviewed was an imported model, though the Australian release is almost identical. We'll update this review with any changes, including Australian pricing and carriers, when it's officially released.

The HTC Hero's design is distinctive. Apart from the stylish white casing with an etched silver finish, the Hero distinguishes itself thanks to a unique angled lip at the bottom of the phone (often referred to as a Jay Leno chin in the US). The angled design houses the Hero's controls, including a BlackBerry-like trackball, answer and end call keys and dedicated home, menu, search and back buttons. The Hero's design has divided opinion; we feel it looks better in the flesh than it does in pictures.

Samsung Party crasher Smartphone

Like a shotgun in the face of dumbphone owners everywhere, Samsung has blasted its new Icon range of smartphones onto the Australian market. The highlight? The Android powered Galaxy.

There are five new touchscreen phones as part of the Icon range. The Android powered Galaxy, the HD running Symbian, the new Omnia on Windows Mobile, as well at the Jet and Preston running a Samsung OS.

I had a bit of a play with each of them yesterday at the media launch, and they’re all really attractive phones. The fact that most of them include a 3.5mm headphone jack is a long-awaited relief, while the AMOLED screens all look pretty damn amazing.

In my opinion, the Galaxy Icon was definitely the most interesting of the five showcased, mostly because of its Android UI. It’s a very basic version of Android - there aren’t any software skins or special custom apps preloaded on this, which means it’s probably not as versatile as the upcoming HTC Hero, but it’s still a solid entry into the platform for Samsung. It’s got an RRP of $749 and will be available through Optus, Vodafone, Virgin and Crazy John’s, so it’s got a fairly wide reach.

Google refutes USA Today report on blocked Skype application

While Apple was busy batting away the FCC with its litany of reasons why its app approval process is totally hunky-dory, Google was apparently having its own VoIP-related firefight. It seems that an article in the USA Today which hit newsstands this morning alleges that the internet giant sought to block (dare we say reject) a full Skype application from making its way into the Android Market. The story claims that the application was neutered to become "a watered-down version of the original that routes calls over traditional phone networks" -- which would obviously cast a decidedly malevolent slant to the benevolent company's policies.

The story is surely fine fodder for a FUD enthusiast up to that point, but it appears (gasp) that USA Today may have gotten one minor fact wrong. Namely, that Google had any unsavory aim to clip the wings of the Skype app. According to company man Andy Rubin (on Google's Public Policy Blog), the "lite" moniker was only attached due to technical limitations of the Android platform. In his words:
Here are the facts, clear and simple: While the first generation of our Android software did not support full-featured VoIP applications due to technology limitations, we have worked through those limitations in subsequent versions of Android, and developers are now able to build and upload VoIP services.

As we told USA Today earlier in the week Google did not reject an application from Skype or from any other company that provides VoIP services. To suggest otherwise is false. At this point no software developer -- including Skype -- has implemented a complete VoIP application for Android. But we're excited to see -- and use -- these applications when they're submitted, because they often provide more choice and options for users. We also look forward to the day when consumers can access any application, including VoIP apps, from any device, on any network.
Note the jab there at the end? Okay, swell. Of course, even if Google had rejected the app outright, users still could have installed the software through other avenues, as the Android Market is only a suggestion -- not a mandate -- for how consumers should acquire apps on Google's platform.

First ever: Software pirates jailed

A Chinese court has jailed four people for spreading their bootleg "Tomato Garden" version of Microsoft's Windows XP program, in what the Xinhua news agency called the nation's biggest software piracy case. Hong Lei, the creator of the downloadable "Tomato Garden Windows XP" software, was jailed for three and a half years on Thursday by a court in Suzhou in eastern China, Xinhua reported, citing local media.

One of his accomplices received the same prison term and two received two years each. Hong "created the Tomato Garden version of the Windows XP," which crippled the program's authentication and certification barriers, said Xinhua, allowing users unrestricted access to the popular Microsoft software.

Microsoft vs. Apple: The battle rages on

Kevin Turner, Microsoft's Chief Operating Officer, told partners during his Worldwide Partner Conference keynote not only about the upcoming Microsoft Stores this fall to be placed near Apple stores but also about how Apple's lawyers wanted Microsoft to take down their Laptop Hunter ads. Here's the story he told (keep in mind that it's coming from a Microsoft executive):

And so we've been running these PC value ads. Just giving people saying, hey, what are you looking to spend? "Oh, I'm looking to spend less than $1,000." Well we'll give you $1,000. Go in and look and see what you can buy. And they come out and they just show them. Those are completely unscripted commercials.

And you know why I know they're working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey -- this is a true story -- saying, "Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices." They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I've ever taken in business. (Applause.)

I did cartwheels down the hallway. At first I said, "Is this a joke? Who are you?" Not understanding what an opportunity. And so we're just going to keep running them and running them and running them.

You can read the whole transcript of Turner's keynote on Microsoft Presspass.

The most recent Laptop Hunters ad features Matt and Olivia, who are looking for a $700 computer they can use to share pictures of their son Jayden with friends and family. It needs to have a large screen and great battery life, and of course they find their dream machine:....

Apple vs. Google: This time it's personal

It's gloves-off time for two of Silicon Valley's darlings, and if they're not careful, one of them might get their hair mussed.

[ Even when Google and Apple don't see eye to eye, they still have their sights set on one rival: Microsoft. Get Cringely's take on the Microsoft-Yahoo deal and its implications for the frenemies. | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt jumped -- or was pushed -- off the Apple Board of Directors, and Apple's terse announcement of same was less "thanks for your years of support and dedication" and more "see ya, wouldn't want to be ya."

Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple’s core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric’s effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple’s Board.

Next thing you know, they'll be crossing out each other's names on their PeeChee folders and writing "LUZR" instead.

Of course, Schmidt couldn't have been too pleased when the Inscrutable Mandarins who run the iPhone App Store summarily booted all Google Voice applications, because they committed the most heinous crime of all: duplicating (or improving upon) functions already built into the Jesus Phone.

Apple: Poachers will be punished

It seems Steve Jobs prefers his eggs-ecutives fried, not poached. And that could place him in boiling water with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Smoking-gun e-mails unearthed by Bloomberg suggest that back in August 2007, the Pope of 1 Infinite Loop contacted then Palm CEO Ed Colligan with a deal: Keep your dirty palms (ahem) off our top talent, and we'll do the same.

[ Palm isn't alone in Apple's cross-hairs. Get Cringely's take on the battle with Google: "Apple vs. Google: This time it's personal." | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Microsoft to encircle Google and Apple with Windows Mobile split

When a person says they like something, they might also add: "What's not to like?"

When Steve Ballmer said he liked Microsoft's Windows Mobile strategy a few years back, you had to ask "what strategy"? Microsoft's chief executive told CNBC-TV "I like our strategy, I like it a lot" while laughing off Apple's iPhone. Ballmer was speaking when the iPhone was announced and not yet released, Microsoft's primary market in mobile was business users, and the competition was RIM and the sickly Palm. It was a stable and predictable world, like the world of super-power politics before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Now, with the company losing market share to Apple along with RIM and Palm, and Google moving into the handset space with Android, old certainties are off and Microsoft is scrambling to find its place in the new world order. Six months ago it unveiled Windows Mobile 6.5, which will add some finger-based input capabilities to Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile 6.5 wasn't even talked about when Ballmer went on TV in 2007, and when it launches in October this year it'll be almost two and a half years behind the iPhone and four months after Palm's webOS was released with the Pre.

We were told Windows Mobile 7.0 would follow in 2010, and would add more touch capabilities. Details are sketchy and Microsoft has not talked about Windows Mobile 7.0, but we had something to aim at. Call it "a strategy."

Now, it seems that Microsoft plans an interim Windows Mobile 6.5 upgrade in February 2010 "with a touch interface", DigiTimes has reported. The report cites sources inside handset makers. And, once Windows Mobile 7.0 is released in the fourth-quarter of 2010 Microsoft will cut the price of Windows Mobile 6.5. The idea is to compete against Android using Windows Mobile 6.5 and the iPhone with Windows Mobile 7.0, DigiTimes said.

Microsoft refused to comment on the report, but a spokesperson told The Reg that Microsoft is excited about the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5. "This is our focus right now," he said. The dictionary defines strategy as "a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result." Based on what we've seen, on what Microsoft has said about needing to do better, and on the company's recent loss of market share, it would be generous to call what's going on in Windows Mobile a strategy - now, in 2007, or going further back.

If DigiTimes is correct, the new so-called dual-approach strategy backs what The Reg believes is Microsoft's real goal: use Windows Mobile 6.5 to onramp iPhone converts to Windows Mobile 7.0. It's hard to see, though, whether Microsoft can sway iPhone developers with the offer of either of these operating systems, or if they'll respond to being gently moved down an unclear roadmap that'll simply bring Microsoft to some kind of parity with Apple, Google, and Palm once it's completed.

Meanwhile, we have the added complication of Windows 7. This will add finger-licking touch and raise further questions of why didn't Microsoft simply cut its losses and cut down the PC version of Windows for mobile devices.

Apple chokes on Google

IPhone maker Apple Inc told US regulators it has not approved Google Inc's Voice application, which could challenge the wireless industry's giants, because it interferes with the iPhone "user experience."

Apple told the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on Friday that the Google app appears to replace the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and user interface with its own system for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. "Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it," Catherine Novelli, Apple vice president for worldwide government affairs, said in a letter to the FCC.

The letter was in response to an inquiry launched last month by the FCC, which under new leadership is taking a fresh look into the state of competition in the wireless industry. The FCC, chaired by Julius Genachowski, wants to know why Apple rejected the Google Voice and what was discussed among Apple, Google and AT&T Inc, the exclusive U.S. carrier for the iPhone.

High-tech gadgets to stop shark attacks

The military and NSW government are adopting high-tech new methods to prevent a repeat of last summer's spate of shark attacks. The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) will this week introduce a new DNA database designed to further research into shark population, size and movements. It will also begin monitoring shark nets, due to be reinstalled at 51 NSW beaches on September 1, by GPS to help prevent harm to other marine life.

A new shark and turtle tagging program is also being started and shark nets will be checked every three days rather than every four. The measures are in direct response to last summer's series of shark attacks in NSW which caused serious injuries to several people.

Aug 20, 2009

The art of the spin doctors

Since its first appearance in 1984, the term “spin doctor” has been used to describe the public relations professionals who reinvent the truth in order to present their clients in the most favorable and flattering light. Putting a positive spin on events has long been a traditional part of public relations, but “spin” is cynically perceived as a form of propaganda: biased, manipulative and deceptive. The culture of spin is a response to the possibilities offered by global telecommunications and the demands of a political environment in which media coverage is a crucial element of public opinion. Sociologists see the rise of spin as a real problem for democracy because its “pernicious influence” in political campaigns and corporate strategies masks transparency and provides the public with distorted information.

Rocket propelled tweets hit airlines PR

Indignant letters, e-mails and phone calls can still get results for unhappy airline travelers, but more are finding that if you really want to vent your frustrations, you can now be loud and fast and public.

At least that's the buzz on Twitter, where airlines are discovering that fuming passengers who have been stranded, delayed or just plain piqued are increasingly letting their undiluted rage fly around the Internet, often from the confines of their cramped airplane seat. Twitter and other fast-growing social networking websites like Facebook (also ran) and YouTube (excellent) have sprung up as yet another front in beleaguered airlines public relations battle.