Ugly Meter iPhone app 'a tool for bullies'

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A NEW iPhone app called the "Ugly Meter" is just what cyberbullies - including elementary school kids - need to target easy marks, online security experts said today.

The US99c app, now available for iPhone users on Apple's iTunes Store, uses facial recognition software that measures symmetry and other features. Downloaded more than 20,000 times and designed for users aged nine and above, the app scans a snapshot and submits a score of one to 10, reported.

A 10 garners this message: "You're so ugly, when you walk by the bathroom, the toilet flushes."

A 9.4 gets: "You look like you ran a 100-yard dash in a 90-yard gym."

While the app's creators say they are just having some fun, some critics say the software can be malicious in the wrong hands.

It's "right on the borderline" of appropriate and inappropriate, said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Washington-based Family Online Safety Institute.

"I can see that the guys who programmed it were having a bit of fun and all," Mr Balkam said. "If you're 25, 26 or 28, this sort of thing could be quite funny or amusing. But in the hands of a 14- or 15-year-old, it could be quite the reverse, and particularly if someone is submitting someone else's photograph and then circulated that photo around school."

"For impressionable young teens and tweens, it could potentially be quite damaging," he said. "It could be used in cyberbullying."

Dr Gwenn O'Keeffe, author of Cybersafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media, said she thought the app could theoretically have a "crushing impact" on some young users.

"There's a fine line between teasing and razzing one another," Dr O'Keeffe said. "And this is just hurtful. It could have crushing blows on kids with low self-esteem. There's just nothing good that could come from an app like this. There are other ways to have fun in life."

Dr O'Keeffe said Apple should consider removing the application from its online store, or perhaps make it unavailable to minors.

NASA preps '100-year spaceship' program to boldly go where none have gone before

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A SENIOR NASA official has promised to deliver a spaceship that will travel between alien worlds "within a few years".

Speaking at a conference in San Francisco on Saturday, NASA Ames director Simon Worden said his division had started a project with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called the "Hundred Year Starship”.

The project was kicked off recently with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA and hopes to utilise new propulsion ideas being explored by NASA.

Star Trek fans, prepare to get excited - electric propulsion is here, according to Mr Worden.

“Anybody that watches the (Star Trek) Enterprise, you know you don’t see huge plumes of fire," he said.

"Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”
Mr Worden said the space program was "now really aimed at settling other worlds”.

“You heard it here,” he told the crowd at the “Long Conversation”.

“Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.”

Mr Worden said he hoped to "inveigle some billionaires" such as Google founder Larry Page to help with further funding for the project.

Another possible source of propulsion being funded by NASA was by using microwave power from a planetary base to heat hydrogen propellants on board an orbiting spaceship.

"You don’t have to carry all the fuel," he said. "You use that energy from a laser or microwave power to heat a propellant; it gets you a pretty big factor of improvement. I think that’s one way of getting off the world.”

Mr Worden had an interesting take on how we would settle other worlds when we found them, suggesting it would be easier to adapt humans to an alien planet than changing the planet to suit humans.

Apple opts for speed as laptop lightens, MacBook and iPad 'hook up'

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

APPLE'S iPhone and iPads have been such hits that the company is now looking for ways to bring some of their cachet to its laptops and desktops.

Offering glimpses overnight in the US of an updated Mac operating system, called Mac OS X Lion, Apple CEO Steve Jobs drew laughs when he introduced the new models by saying: "We asked ourselves: What would happen if a MacBook and an iPad hooked up?"

The company highlighted features that borrow from the lighter-weight iOS that runs on its mobile gadgets and unveiled two new versions of its MacBook Air ultralight laptops.

Lion - Apple uses names of big cats to differentiate between versions - is expected to arrive mid-2011.

It will include a built-in store selling Mac software, similar to the iTunes store that sells apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Those devices have been successful in part because of the tens of thousands of games and other programs available as free or paid downloads in the app store.

Apple may be looking to a Mac app store to boost interest in its computers, which make up a tiny but growing percentage of the personal computer market.

In the second quarter, Macs accounted for about four per cent of PC shipments worldwide, according to the research group IDC.

Apple plans to vet Mac programs before they'll be sold in the store.

Software developers will be able to submit apps for review starting in November and the Mac store will be open for business in the next 90 days.

Lion also mimics the iPhone and iPad user interface in a few ways.

Mac users will be able to move from the main desktop to a "dashboard," or screen with a clock, weather report, calculator and other widgets, by swiping a multitouch mouse or trackpad.

People will also be able to drag one program icon on top of another to create a new folder, which smartly names itself based on the type of applications that are inside.

Before the event, rumors swirled that Apple would add a touch screen to its Mac laptops.

But the company stuck to its stated belief that it doesn't make ergonomic sense to make people reach out and touch a vertical surface.

Apple's new MacBook Air laptops have something else in common with iPhones and iPads, however - they store all their information in flash memory.

Apple did away with a CD and DVD drive in its first MacBook Air, and it ditches the hard disk drive in this edition, too. That will speed up the time it takes to boot up the laptops or wake them from a sleep state.