New mobiles get a lot more social

Sunday, February 28, 2010

THE latest crop of phones range from total solutions for online socialites to miniature marvels, writes Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson.

THOSE seemingly simple gadgets, mobile phones, have taken over our lives and will outnumber computers in less than three years, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt predicts.

Modern mobiles are feature-heavy, internet-savvy, app-packed and now responsible for almost half of the world's new internet connections.

But plans are afoot to make mobiles even more central in our lives, with exhibitors at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona showing ways phones will become a one-stop hub for social networking, even more portable, and filled with slicker, easier-to-use menus.

Be warned though, there are tough choices to make to invest in your next phone.

Apple gets rid of 5000 'overtly sexy' apps

Saturday, February 27, 2010

APPLE has gotten rid of more than 5000 "overtly sexual" applications after receiving complaints from concerned parents, The Sun reports.

Software makers also argued that the sex apps were crowding out the popular App store.

But the move has provoked anger from smaller developers who say similar raunchy content from big brands has been allowed to stay on.

The Apple app store is massively popular among iPhone users with three billion apps downloaded since it was launched.

There are now 140,000 applications available to Apple customers.

But the company last week emailed a number of developers telling them their apps would be removed because they did not conform with new content guidelines.

One of the banned apps — Wobble iBoobs — lets users wobble parts of a bikini-clad model.

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Related Coverage

* Apple removing risque iPhone apps, 2 days ago
* Local talent takes a bite of the Apple iPad, 2 Feb 2010
* Holocaust survivors decry iMussolini app, 30 Jan 2010
* New Google Voice sneaks onto iPhone, 26 Jan 2010
* Mobile apps open up role of the TV Australian IT, 18 Jan 2010

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Another — British online shopping application Simply Beach — was removed because its images of girls in bikinis were thought to be too rude.

Managing director Gerrard Dennis said: "You can see much worse at your local swimming pool."

"I hope that the women who buy and wear our products do feel sexy in them, but it's not the sort of thing men would download in order to ogle."

Apple executive Phil Schiller said they had removed around three per cent of the apps as they were unsuitable for family viewing and they had "to put the needs of the kids and parents first."

TweetCaster for Android Gets Almost Everything Right

Friday, February 26, 2010

Those who say there are no decent Twitter apps for Android simply haven't found the right one. When the Android Market first opened, you could sign in, watch the handful of new apps being uploaded every day, and generally know everything that was available on the platform. There really were only a couple of Twitter clients.

Now that the Market has been revised -- and there are more than 25,000 apps by the last unofficial count from Androlib -- there are plenty of Android Twitter clients to choose from.

Frequently, they'll differentiate themselves by highlighting a unique feature that users can latch onto. Twitspeak, for example, uses Android's Text-to-Speech engine to read tweets aloud. Swift claims to be the "fastest, leanest Twitter app with the most features per KB."
XeekuTweets Pro claims to be the only Twitter app that supports the (854x480) WVGA of the Droid and Nexus One. Loquacious, meanwhile, uses the simple approach of offering a UI with "no turquoise anywhere!"

Olympics to athletes: Go ahead and tweet

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The International Olympic Committee on Friday made it clear that athletes should feel free to share their experiences via Twitter at the upcoming Games in Vancouver.

In a post on its own Twitter feed, the IOC pointed to its detailed rules (PDF) for bloggers, but summarized its position with the succinctness called for in a tweet.

"Athletes go ahead and Tweet as long as it is about your own personal experience at the Games," the IOC said on the microblogging site.

Some Olympians, including skiing star Lindsey Vonn, had expressed confusion over the policies. At one point, Vonn suggested on Twitter and Facebook that she would not be able to continue her frequent tweets during the games because of a blackout period.

"Hey everyone, because of the Olympic rules (blackout period) I will not be able to post any updates from now until March 3rd," Vonn wrote on her Facebook page. "Sorry, it bums me out too! Even though I won't be able to write to you I can still get your messages so keep them coming!"

Various Olympic organizers have tried to clear up the misunderstanding with tweets of their own, pointing to the IOC's new blogging guidelines, which apply to all accredited attendees, including athletes, and allow blogs so long as they reflect one's own experiences as opposed to a journalistic report.

U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Bob Condron said the move by the IOC should let "both the athletes and the readers enjoy the Olympics at a new level."

"This might be the 'twitter Olympics,'" he said in an e-mail interview. "It'll be interesting to see where it all goes. Our brain waves are now operating in a 140-character mode."

The move by the IOC to allow updates to Twitter and other social-media sites contrasts with other sports, which have imposed restrictions on postings by athletes.

Twitter has also formed a central point of coverage, with NBC posting a page on its Olympics site with a constantly updating feed from the more than 80 athletes who have been posting updates.

The list ranges from stars like Vonn, who has about 35,000 followers of her own, to athletes in lesser-followed sports such as curling and cross-country skiing, some of whom have fewer than 100 followers

The E-Book Empire Strikes

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Apple held most of the music industry virtually at knifepoint for years, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you were a consumer who wanted a legal way to get popular music at a fairly reasonable price: a buck a song, 10 an album, no exceptions. It was only about a year ago that iTunes let go of its dollar-store policy and allowed for a little leeway in its pricing. True, that leeway amounted to only a few cents per song, but the point is, for a very long time, it was the distribution channel dictating prices, not the publisher.

Amazon's recent actions were in the same spirit, but the results were very different. The etailer had a brief spat with Macmillan, one of the largest book publishers providing titles to the Kindle e-book reader. Amazon wanted to keep the price of e-books below 10 bucks, but Macmillan thought some of its stuff was worth more like US$13 to $15. So Amazon pulled all Macmillan books, which put a noticeable dent in its available selection.

It was pretty clear from the get-go that this was only going to be a temporary move -- Amazon even acknowledged in a note to users that it would have to eventually capitulate, and at that point, it would be readers who'd get to decide whether the price was right. The freeze-out lasted a whole day.

So how come a book publisher got its way so quickly, when the Big Four music labels had to fight tooth and nail for years just to charge 30 cents more for a song? Well, experience counts for something. Producers of every sort of medium that can be digitized -- books, movies, TV -- they all look at the music industry as an early example of what not to do.

Also, Amazon can't pound book publishers into submission with the threat of piracy. Back in the day, iTunes could basically tell record labels: "Look, anyone with a CD drive on their computer can rip and share your stuff, so come with me if you want to live."

Making e-books isn't as easy. You can't really jam the latest Stephen King novel into a computer and have an e-book ready to distribute in five minutes, and scanners that can turn book pages automatically aren't really standard laptop equipment. You'd need some very dedicated book pirates out there with some insane typing skills. Instead, e-books are issued by the publisher and can be tied up nicely with DRM. I'm not saying it's impossible, just that it's hard to imagine the book industry having a Napster moment.

And Apple's not just impacting the situation with its legacy in music -- its new hardware is also probably a factor. Just last week, it did its iPad show and tell, which included an all-new iBook Store. Now that Amazon is looking at what could be a serious Kindle competitor, book publishers likely have a new degree of leverage.

Facebook's photo uploader gets an overhaul too

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot on the heels of a visual face-lift, Facebook on Friday announced that the prototype version of its photo uploader, which was introduced in mid-November of last year, will soon be rolling out to all users.

Unlike the existing version of Facebook's photo uploader, the new uploader requires the installation of a browser plug-in. This inconvenience is rewarded with the option to leave Facebook entirely, while the photos continue to upload in the background. Previously, users would have had to leave that window or page running while the uploader did its magic.
Facebook also said the new uploader supports a few extra photo formats, though it did not specify which ones. The company has, for some time now, had unofficial support for a handful of alternate formats, including raw images. However, on its official spec sheet the company says only .jpg, .gif, .bmp, and .png files will work.

Facebook currently gets 2.5 billion photo uploads per month. To put that in perspective, the company hit the 10 billion mark in October of 2008, a whole three years after first introducing the photo-sharing feature in 2005. In other words, any small change that makes it easier for people to get their photos onto the social network could end up having a big effect on how fast Facebook's photo collection will continue to grow.

If you can't wait for Facebook to activate the uploader on your account, you can do it yourself. Just head over to Facebook's prototype page, and turn it on.

Google seeks to patent new Web app tech

Monday, February 22, 2010

Three patent applications concern Google's Native Client, a technology for letting downloaded software modules run directly on a processor rather than more slowly through on-the-fly decoding as with the commonly used JavaScript. And one patent application involves O3D, a technology to let browser applications take advantage of 3D acceleration of graphics hardware.
Brad Chen

Patents can serve a variety of purposes. They can be used to keep competitors away from new technology until the patent expires. They can be licensed to others for their use or used as bargaining chips when negotiating patent cross-license agreements that let companies use each other's patents. They can be hoarded for defensive purposes, ready for deployment in a patent infringement countersuit if one company is sued by another. They can be used to gain more favorable terms in the creation of industry standards that relate to the patents. And of course they can bolster corporate chest-thumping when it comes time to boast about levels of innovation.

Thus far, Google hasn't proven to be a litigious company, but its presence is looming ever larger over the computing industry. The new patents are in a particularly fast-moving area, the development of Web browsers and associated technology for making cloud computing a more powerful foundation for applications.
Ultimately, Google hopes to standardize the technology so all browsers can use it, though it's not waiting for a standard.

"Native Client so far is outside any standards process. We're in discussions with other browser vendors on how to move that forward. We'd like to see all these things standardized," said Linus Upson, engineering director for the Chrome browser and Chrome OS, in a December interview. "At the end of day, don't think we'll refuse to ship something just because there isn't a piece of paper that says this is a standard."

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How Cozy Are Google and the NSA?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Has allegedly requested help from the National Security Agency in tracking down hackers who attacked its infrastructure. The development has raised concerns among privacy advocates.

The Washington Post broke the story that Google had turned to the NSA on Thursday, citing anonymous sources.

Security experts and privacy advocates have questioned Google's motives. Some have warned that this could constitute another attack on American citizens' civil liberties. Others say the move is part of a scheme by Google to curry favor with the government as it seeks to get more government contracts.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request and asked for expedited processing with the NSA Thursday. It seeks information on the agency's arrangements with Google on cybersecurity. It is also looking for records regarding the NSA's role in setting security standards for Gmail and other Web-based applications.

Google declined to discuss the issue. "We're not going to comment beyond what we said in our original blog post," spokesperson Jay Nancarrow told TechNewsWorld. "At the time, we said we are working with the relevant U.S. authorities."

The blog post to which Nancarrow referred was written by David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, and originally posted Jan. 12. The hack attack described in the post was publicized last month and has severely strained relations between Google and the government of China, where the attack is believed to have originated. The attack also targeted at least 20 other large companies, and Google claimed there was evidence suggesting a primary goal of the attackers was to break into the accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The accounts of "dozens" of Gmail users in the United States, Europe and China who advocate human rights in China also appeared to have been "routinely accessed" by third parties, Drummond said.

The Critically Complex World of Cars' Sparky Bits

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Your most expensive piece of electronics probably is not your flat panel TV or your computer. More likely, it's your car, which can pack 50 microprocessors to control everything from the fuel mix to the rearview mirrors.

The recalls and other technical problems besetting Toyota in the last few weeks highlight the risks of relying on electronics instead of the mechanical rods and cables that controlled vehicles for most of the 20th century.
Driving by Wire

For many years, a car's gas and brake pedals were connected directly to the throttle and the brake assembly. Now computers and electronic sensors govern many of those functions, as well as a vehicle's exhaust system, its inside temperature and a host of other operations.

Those design changes were reviewed this week when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began looking into 124 reports from consumers that their Toyota Priuses momentarily lost braking ability while traveling over uneven roads, potholes or bumps. Four of the reports involve crashes.

The Prius problem is part of a broader issue for Toyota: Accelerators in its non-hybrid cars can get trapped under floor mats or become stuck on their own and fail to return to the idle position. Toyota has recalled eight top-selling models, involving 2.3 million cars in the U.S. alone.

The wider problems appear to be conventional mechanical issues, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said his department would undertake a broad review of whether automobile engines could be disrupted by electromagnetic interference caused by power lines or other sources.

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A Safer Way to Coat Long-Lasting Solar Cells

Friday, February 19, 2010

A venture spun out of two Quebec universities says it has developed a safer way of adding antireflective coatings to crystalline silicon solar cells that also boosts their lifetime energy yield.
In the solar photovoltaic market, even the smallest improvement in efficiency can have a meaningful impact on manufacturers' bottom line, which is why antireflective coatings are so important. These thin coatings, which cause solar cells to appear blue, maximize how much sunlight is absorbed and reduce surface defects that can lower performance.

However, the most popular coating method--the vapor deposition of a silicon nitride film using silane gas--comes with major risks. Silane can ignite when exposed to air; the gas is costly to transport, and silicon cell manufacturers must invest in special storage, ventilation, and other safety measures to prevent accidents.

"The potential for damage is huge," says Ajeet Rohatgi, director of the Photovoltaic Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Cells coated this way are also affected by a phenomenon called light-induced degradation that occurs once after the first 24 to 48 hours of sunlight exposure. "In a cell with 18 percent efficiency, you will see efficiency drop [almost immediately] to 17.7 or 17.5 percent, and you've lost that for the life of the cell," he says.


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New Life for Magnetic Tape

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Music lovers may have long forsaken them, but magnetic tapes still reign supreme when it comes to storing vast amounts of digital data. And new research from IBM and Fujifilm could ensure that tape remains the mass storage medium of choice for years to come for at least a decade.
At IBM's Zurich Research Laboratories in Switzerland, researchers have developed a new tape material and a novel tape-reading technology. In combination, they can store 29.5 billion bits per square inch, which translates to a cartridge capable of holding around 35 terabytes of data--more than 40 times the capacity of cartridges currently available, and several times more than a hard disk of comparable size.

The researchers used a relatively new magnetic medium, called barium ferrite. In cooperation with researchers from Fujifilm's labs in Japan, they orientated the barium ferrite magnetic particles so that their magnetic fields protrude perpendicularly from the tape, instead of lengthways. This means that more bits can be crammed into a given area, and the magnetic fields are stronger. Furthermore, these particles allow thinner tape to be used, meaning12 percent more tape can be stored on a single spooled cartridge.

Increasing the density of data that can be stored on a tape makes it more difficult to reliably read information. This is already a problem because of electromagnetic interference and because the heads themselves will retain a certain amount of residual magnetism from readings. To overcome this, the IBM group developed new signal processing algorithms that simultaneously process data and predict the effect that electromagnetic noise will have on subsequent readings.

Has iPad cost Steve Jobs his sparkle?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

APPLE chief executive Steve Jobs may have taken a little shine off his sparkling ability to convince the world to tune in to the launch of a new Apple product.

The tablet PC the world had waited for since whispers about a "Kindle rival" emerged in May last year was unveiled yesterday to the usual extravagant media fanfare, with trademark beskivvied Jobs and giant screen treatment.

Yet within hours of introducing the world to the "game-changing" iPad, the vast majority of reviews and consumer feedback was homing in on what it didn't do, as opposed to what it did.

It seems the iPad has almost none of the wow-factor of Apple's previous launches, the iPhone and iPod - devices that undoubtably changed the way the world communicated.

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Instead, tech writers and Apple fanboys and girls were left to fight it out over how a machine quickly coined as a "giant iPhone" was the next big leap forward for the iconic Californian company.

And as a list of iPad pitfalls quickly coalesced and spread through the internet community, Apple shares reacted, dropping 3.5 per cent after gaining one per cent just prior to the launch.

In contrast, Amazon - the manufacturer of the Kindle, iPad's main e-book competitior - gained one per cent.

In Australia, opinion was guarded, mainly because the details of what version would be shipped out and at what cost were hazy at best.

If it mirrored the iPhone's launch, Australians would be more inclined to wait for the 3G version, which could be up to six months away and will cost substantially more (close to $700) than the wifi version expected to arrive in April ($560).

There's also some concern that Australians won't be able to access content from Apple's iBook store - at least until the end of the year.

But aside from local worries, the consensus among the iPad's detractors centred on:

The display - the iPad's backlit LCD screen is too bright for extended e-book reading.

Battery life - At 10 hours, it's ahead of any netbook, but still a good 20 or 30 hours behind any e-book on the market.

Security - If your iPad gets stolen, there's apparently no way to remotely lock it.

Apps lock-out - The iPad only runs apps from Apple's App Store. Which is a lot of apps, admittedly, but not everyone's happy about Apple's inconsistency when it come to what apps it allows for sale.

Camera - There isn't one.

USB input - There isn't any. At least, not without an adapter.

No Flash - Without Flash, forget about displaying around the majority of internet content the way you could on a netbook or laptop.

Multitasking - Is impossible on the iPad, which means you can only use one application at a time, reducing its functionality as a work computer to little more than a large iPhone.

No HDMI - So you won't be sitting back to watch any movies you download from iTunes on your TV.

Obviously, it's the first look from Apple at what is essentially a first generation machine, despite the fact that tablet computers have been around for a decade, so users can expect at least several of the iPad's perceived shortcomings to be rectified in one way or another over the next 12 months.

Young Blood Reverses Signs of Aging in Old Mice

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The antiaging power of blood might not be just the stuff of vampire stories. According to new research from Harvard University, an unspecified factor in the blood of young mice can reverse signs of aging in the circulatory system of older ones. It's not yet clear how these changes affect the animals' overall health or longevity. But the research provides hope that some aspects of aging, such as the age-related decline in the ability to fight infection, might be avoidable.
"At least some age-related defects are reversible, and the factors to reverse them are carried in blood," said Amy Wagers, a researcher at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Joslin Diabetes Center, in Boston, at a press conference on Tuesday. Identifying those factors could lead to new strategies to boost resistance to infection, and perhaps a decrease in some cancers, she said.

In the experiment, Wagers and team surgically connected the circulatory systems of two mice, allowing older animals to be exposed to blood--and all the molecules and cells it carries-- from young animals. They found that the procedure made the blood-forming stem cells in older animals act young again; the overall number of these cells decreased, and the cells generated different varieties of blood cells in more appropriate ratios. "In aged animals, many of the changes we see normally that are associated with age were reversed," said Wagers.

The findings, published today in the journal Nature, and which follow similar results with muscle stem cells, also suggest that the regenerative capacity of stem cells is highly influenced by their environment, which could have both positive and negative implications for regenerative medicine.

NASA's Next Space Suit

Monday, February 15, 2010

If NASA returns to the moon in 2020 as planned, astronauts will step out in a brand-new space suit. It will give them new mobility and flexibility on the lunar surface while still protecting them from its harsh environment. The suit will also be able to sustain life for up to 150 hours and will even be equipped with a computer that links directly back to Earth.
The new design will also let astronauts work outside of the International Space Station (ISS) and will be suitable for trips to Mars, as outlined in NASA's program for exploration, called Constellation. "The current suits just cannot do everything we need them to do," says Terry Hill, the Constellation space suit engineering project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We have a completely new design, something that has never been done before."

NASA has proposed a plug-in-play design, so that the same arms, legs, boots, and helmets can be used with different suit torsos. "It's one reconfigurable suit that can do the job of three specialized suits," says Hill. The space agency has awarded a $500 million, 6.5-year contract for the design and development of the Constellation space suit to Houston-based Oceaneering International, which primarily makes equipment for deep-sea exploration. Oceaneering has partnered with the Worcester, MA-based David Clark Company, which has been developing space suits for the U.S. space agency since the 1960s.

The space shuttle astronauts currently wear two difference types of space suits. The Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) is worn during the launch and reentry phases of flight. It is soft, fabric-based, and protects against the loss of atmospheric pressure or cold-water exposure in case of an ocean landing, and provides water cooling to regulate an astronaut's body temperature. The full assembly includes a survival pack, an emergency oxygen system, and a personal parachute so that astronauts can abort the shuttle during the landing phase.

Like an iPhone

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CEO Steve Jobs took the stage to unveil the device, which has been the subject of often dizzying speculation and excitement in recent weeks. "We want to kick off 2010 by introducing a magical and revolutionary product today," Jobs said.

The expectation and hope for many has been that Apple will revolutionize both the e-reader and tablet computing markets, just as it did with the cell-phone and PDA markets through the iPhone.

The iPad features a 9.7-inch (25-centimeter) multi-touch, in-plane switching LCD display; it is half an inch (1.3 centimeters) thick and weighs 1.5 pounds (.6 kilograms). The main processor is a one-gigahertz chip made by Apple, and the device is said to come with 10 hours of battery life when in full use.

Along with 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth, the iPad will connect to AT&T's 3G wireless network. But the data plan is a hybrid of what is offered for phones and laptops already. Users will be asked to pay either $14.99 a month for up to 250 megabytes of data, or $29.99 a month for unlimited data.

The device costs between $499 and $829. The cheapest model will come with Wi-Fi only and 16 gigabytes of flash memory; the most expensive version includes 64 gigabytes of memory and 3G access. The device will ship in 60 days.

During the announcement, Jobs was careful to distinguish the iPad from the netbooks that have grown popular as a cheap alternative to laptops for browsing the Internet and simple computing tasks. Championing the design principles for which Apple is famous, he argued that the new device had to be better than a laptop for Web browsing, sending e-mail, viewing photos, reading e-books, and other tasks.

The interface for the device is similar to that of the iPhone: a multi-touch screen and an on-screen keyboard. The iPad is designed to run all iPhone apps "unmodified, right out of the box," according to Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone software. It can run them either in an iPhone-sized window on the screen, or full-screen at lower resolution. Developers can also modify their applications specifically for the iPad, using a new software development kit that Apple made available today. "We think its going to be a whole other gold rush for developers as they build apps for the iPad," Forstall said.

Jobs and others demonstrated numerous applications running on an iPad. These included games, maps, and versions of Apple's iWork suite, showing word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Amazon Expands the Kindle with Apps

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's an exciting time for lovers of digital books. Last week, Amazon announced plans to release a software development kit for the Kindle, so that other companies can develop and sell applications for the e-reader. Tomorrow, Apple is expected to announce a tablet device that could be a significant threat to the Kindle's position as the leading e-reader.
Susan Kevorkian, program director for mobile media and entertainment at the research firm IDC, says Amazon's timing, just in advance of the Apple announcement, isn't pure coincidence. "Apps for the Kindle will enable users to leverage its persistent connectivity to expand Kindle's functionality beyond digital book and periodical reading," she says.

But with a payment scheme that puts developers on the hook for some wireless download costs and a challenging user interface, the Kindle might not enjoy the wide variety of apps already available for the iPhone.

Amazon says applications of all sorts should be available on the Kindle store later this year. The development software is still being tested and revised. But a handful of software developers, including game maker Sonic Boom of New York, were given an early version of the development kit a few months ago so they could start working on products. Amazon says a larger group of testers will get ahold of the software next month.

Josh Grant, Sonic Boom's chief operating officer, says the company is already working on developing a few simple games for the Kindle, including card games, puzzles, and word games. These will be ready when the Kindle application store launches. "We'll see how those do and get some market data" before pursuing a few more innovative ideas, Grant says.

China Gives Android a Pass, as Long as It Keeps Its Nose Clean

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Chinese government won't block the use of Google's Android operating system on mobile phones in the country as long as the operating system abides by Chinese laws, a key government official said on Wednesday.

"As long as it complies with Chinese laws and regulations, and as long as it has good cooperation with operators ... their use of the system won't be limited," Ministry of Industry and Information Technology spokesperson Zhu Hongren said at a news briefing in Beijing, according to reports.

Zhu's comments represent the Chinese government's first statement about Android since the current standoff between Google and the nation's leadership began roughly two weeks ago.
Microsoft Speaks Out

Google announced earlier this month that it is rethinking its presence in China following a series of cyberattacks it said originated there.

Not long afterwards, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton referred to the incident in a speech on the topic of Internet freedom, calling on Chinese authorities to investigate the attacks and asserting that "censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere."

Chinese government officials lashed out in response over the weekend, accusing the United States of maintaining a double standard on the issue. Since then, both Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates have spoken out to downplay China's Internet restrictions.

In the meantime, however, Google delayed the launch of two Android phones that were originally planned to be released in China last week, causing widespread speculation that the effects of its stand against China could extend past its search engine to harm the Android platform.

What Does It Take to Be a Linux Guru

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's a well-known fact that humans love lists, and the media are generally all too happy to oblige.

Recently, however, mixed in among the many "Top 10" lists and "10 Ways to ..." articles out there (Linux Girl's second favorite: "Top 10 ways to spend a Goldman Sachs bonus") was one that seemed worthy of attention.

"10 Characteristics of a Linux Guru?" was the title of the post, which came from DaniWeb's Ken Hess.
'A Collection of Very Early Linux CDs'

"I've known many knowledgeable people over the years but never have I met an actual guru," Hess began.

"I've worked with Linux since 1995 and still wouldn't call myself a guru," he added. "It seems that there's always someone out there who's found some obscure thingy to tell me about -- making me feel as if I don't scour the Internet's neutral zone enough for these things."

What, then, makes a Linux guru?

"Knowledgeable in all major Linux distributions," "donates time and resources to at least one Linux project" and "has a collection of very early (Kernel 1.x or older) Linux CDs" are all among Hess's suggestions.
'Most of Us Prefer to Stay Humble'

DaniWeb readers appeared to find little fault with Hess's list.

"Very nice post," wrote ralemi, for example. "I agree that pride is in contrast with the spirit of open source, so most of us would prefer to stay humble and not to consider ourselves special in the context of Linux community."

Bloggers on LXer, however, were considerably less impressed.

"Seriously, even if just taken as opinions they don't hold up to logic; as guidelines, this list would be better if approached as tongue in cheek humor," wrote azerthoth, for instance, adding that the article had been "annoying me since I first read it."

Taking it even further: "I would postulate that the majority of LXers think that Ken's writing is more 'foot in mouth' than 'tongue in cheek,'" softwarejanitor added.

Apple Lets VoIP iPhone Apps Use 3G Connections

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Several companies offering Voice over Internet Protocol -- or VoIP -- services said this week that Apple now allows their applications Click to learn how AT&T Application Management can help you focus on the growth and profitability of your business. to work on the iPhone.

VoIP calling has been available on the iPhone, but only over WiFi connections, which don't have the range of 3G cellular networks.
FCC Asks Questions

Apple on Thursday confirmed the change and said it applies to applications for the iPhone and the new iPad tablet device unveiled this week, some of which will come with 3G capabilities.

Apple's earlier decision to block a Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) calling application triggered an inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission, which is investigating competition in the wireless industry.

Apple said at the time that it blocked Google Voice because the program duplicated some of the iPhone's features, and that it was still studying the application.

Two months after the FCC sent letters to Apple, Google, and AT&T (NYSE: T) -- the iPhone's exclusive U.S. wireless carrier -- AT&T said it had tweaked its technology to allow VoIP services on the iPhone to work over its 3G wireless network, even though the services challenge AT&T's core calling business.
Permission Required

AT&T also revealed that Apple wasn't allowed to enable any Internet calling applications that use AT&T's 3G network without AT&T's permission. Apple vowed to get VoIP applications into its App Store.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Thursday praised Apple's latest decision, calling it "an action that will create new opportunities for entrepreneurs and provide more choices for consumers."

Red Hat's Open Source School of Thought

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What is Red Hat up to with its launch this week of the Web page?

This replaces the "Truth Happens" page, which ran articles and videos on open source, intellectual property, transparency and other issues.

" is now the place to go to find out about how open source principles are re-shaping business, law, art and, of course, technology," wrote Colin Dodd on the "Truth Happens" page to announce its closing. "We had a great run over here, but the subject outgrew this forum."

So what is It's positioned as a gathering place, but the description of open source from the site's "about" page sounds like it stretches far beyond the concept of freely exchanging zeros and ones. "The open source way is more than a development model; it defines the characteristics of a culture," it says. "The open source way is about possibility. The open source way multiplies."

There are several sections on the page, including "Life," "Education," "Business" and "Law." All the articles on the first page were written by Red Hat staffers, with the exception of the one written by Chris Grams, who used to work at Red Hat and is now a partner in the agency that developed the "Truth Happens" campaign.

Apple Gadget

Monday, February 8, 2010

Before Wednesday, if the rumors were to be believed, Apple was not only on the brink of jettisoning its exclusive U.S. arrangement with AT&T Click to learn how AT&T Application Management can help you focus on the growth and profitability of your business. for the iPhone, but that it would also roll out its tablet device with support from multiple carriers.

That, of course, didn't happen. AT&T is still the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and no indication was given that the situation would change soon. AT&T is also the exclusive 3G carrier for the iPad -- or at least, the versions of the iPad capable of 3G connections. Rumors that consumers would be given a choice between AT&T or Verizon, for example, fell flat.

These developments raise the question: If AT&T is to remain the iPhone's sole carrier and act as the iPad's only cellular data provider, can its network handle the burden of all that traffic?

It's a fair question to ask; for months, AT&T has had to deal with consumer complaints about its 3G network, which has been dragged down by the data demands of the popular Apple smartphone. The problem is especially pervasive in cities like New York and San Francisco. Indeed, Verizon has poked fun at AT&T in its advertising over its network capabilities.
'Thorough Technical Understanding'

AT&T referred to this issue in its earnings call Thursday.

"AT&T is a natural fit for the iPad, given the combination of the ever-improving speed of our 3G network and our robust WiFi capabilities," said John Stankey, CEO and president of AT&T operations. "We have a thorough technical understanding, with a good read on the iPad's usage requirements and characteristics."

The company appears to be banking on users taking to WiFi at least some of the time for their connections, according to comments made by Rick Lindner, CFO for AT&T.
Backhaul Bandwidth

If Apple is smart, it has negotiated with AT&T to invest more money in its network, Todd Day, ICT industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan, told MacNewsWorld.

"The problem with the connection is on the back end side -- there needs to be more capacity to send signals out to the towers," he said.

AT&T has been taking steps, such as identifying the specific high-population areas or towers that are having the most problems and upgrading those first, he added.

"However, it is safe to say there still are issues with AT&T's network and its capacity," he added.

The Point of Gadget Saturation

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kira Marchenese works in online communications, and so she arrived on a business trip to New York earlier this week equipped with all the gadgets you might expect: personal smartphone, work smartphone, laptop, iPod touch.

Problem is, her hotel room didn't have enough outlets to keep the darned devices charged. "I unplugged the lamp and still couldn't do it," she noted ruefully. "At least half the things I'm carrying right now are just dead hunks of metal."

So, though communications is her world, Marchenese has no plans to rush out and buy the iPad, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) new tablet device unveiled with much fanfare on Wednesday. She just doesn't see the need for yet another gadget.
Nor does Ray Bowman, a self-described "techno-junkie" who lives on a farm in Kentucky, raising sheep some 60 miles from the two nearest Apple stores.

Bowman spent Wednesday eagerly following the news of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' presentation, via Twitter, Facebook and wherever else he could find it. "I can't wait to see what this puppy is capable of," he enthused beforehand.

Yet by Thursday, he'd decided not to jump in, even though he still plans to swing by the Louisville store when the iPad is in, just to examine it in his own hands.

"I've seen the hype and the afterhype," said Bowman, 58, executive director of an agriculture-oriented nonprofit organization. "I'll stick with my netbook. Right now, I can't see making the switch."
More Mileage

Marchenese and Bowman use at least seven devices between them. Are they indicative of a cultural tipping point, a sense of general gadget overload? Steve Jones, a historian of communication technology, has seen signs of it, and believes it's at least partially connected to the state of the economy.

"I think we're at the point where we're getting a little more mileage out of our old gadgets, being a little more budget-conscious," says Jones, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"There's a significantly growing culture of people tweaking their old technology to keep it useful," Jones says. "For some, it's actually a point of status now to get more mileage out of their gadgets."

How many gadgets do we own, anyway? The average teen has 3.5, according to figures compiled in September by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and provided to The Associated Press. Adults between 18 and 29 averaged nearly four gadgets, those between 30 and 64 just under three.

Seen from another vantage point, the average household owns about 24 electronic gadgets, according to the Consumer Electronics Association -- a figure that includes TVs, mobile phones, computers, and home receivers.

Cellphone Bans No Boost for Road Safety

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Laws banning drivers from using handheld cellphones while behind the wheel don't help to reduce crashes, a study by the Highway Loss Data Institute has found.

The institute, which is affiliated with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), calculated monthly collision claims in New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and California before and after these states passed such laws.

They compared this data to data from nearby jurisdictions that do not have specific laws banning the use of the devices.

The results indicated that there were no reductions in crashes after laws requiring drivers to switch to hands-free cellphone usage were passed.

That was little short of stunning for the IIHS. "We are very surprised at our findings," institute spokesperson Anne Fleming told TechNewsWorld. "We were among the people who conducted the first study that indicated using a cellphone increased the risk of a crash four-fold."
Details of the Study

The IIHS report based on the study states that the risk of crashing goes up four times when a driver is talking on a cellphone whether or not a hands-free device is used. However, while cellphone usage has tripled since 2000, the risk of crashes has declined.

While state bans on handheld phone usage by drivers has cut such usage by between one-third and one half, the number of collision claims has not declined, the study found.

The IIHS began looking at crashes long before and after certain jurisdictions passed laws against handheld cellphone use.

In New York, for example, the study looked at a period from 22 months before the state enacted a handheld cellphone ban on drivers to 25 months after the law was passed, Fleming said. In California, the study began 18 months before the state enacted its handheld cellphone ban on drivers and continued for 12 months after the law was passed.

MOSS Gives Medical Data-Sharing a Dose of Open Source

Friday, February 5, 2010

New software from Misys Open Source Solutions (MOSS) promises to provide what could be the world's first fully open source, standards-based platform for exchanging health information.

The Misys Connect Exchange software was demonstrated and successfully tested last week in Chicago at IHE Connectathon, the healthcare industry's weeklong interoperability testing event.

The result, MOSS said, will represent the first time all the software needed to exchange electronic files in a healthcare community will be made freely available in open source.
'Meaningful Use' Requirements

"Today is the realization of a complex two-year development project," said Tim Elwell, vice president of MOSS.

Providers can only meet government "meaningful use" requirements if they can electronically exchange patient information across the community with "cross-enterprise user assertion," Elwell added. "The MOSS release will enable that exchange at a much lower price point."

Funding and collaboration on the effort came from Hartford Hospital.
A Week of Testing

IHE, or Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise, is an initiative by healthcare professionals and industry to improve the way computer systems in healthcare share information.

Toward that end, IHE Connectathons give participating vendors an opportunity test their technologies' ability to exchange information with complementary systems from other vendors.

In the test of the new Misys software, Connectathon examination monitors reviewed and passed two core server-side components that help to give an exchange operator the ability to identify a patient uniquely and exchange that patient's clinical information across disparate systems. Such systems could include hospitals, provider offices, labs and diagnostic centers in a community, MOSS explained.

Any record that has been requested is then tracked for auditing purposes, MOSS said. In addition, the resulting health information exchange can be implemented in a centralized or decentralized way, depending on the specific requirements of the community, it noted.

Tech Volunteers Build New Tools to Aid Haiti Relief Efforts

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hundreds of tech volunteers spurred to action by Haiti's killer quake are adding a new dimension to disaster relief, developing new tools and services for first responders and the public in an unprecedented effort.

"It really is amazing the change in the way crisis response can be done now," said Noel Dickover, a Washington, D.C.-based organizer of the CrisisCamp tech volunteer movement, which is central to the Haiti effort. "Developers, crisis mappers and even Internet-savvy folks can actually make a difference."
Volunteers have built and refined software for tracking missing people, mapping the disaster area and enabling urgent cellphone text-messaging. Organizations including the International Red Cross, the United Nations, the World Bank and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency have put the systems to use.

Tim Schwartz, a 28-year-old artist and programmer in San Diego, feared upon learning of the disaster that, with an array of social-networking sites active, crucial information about Haitian quake victims would "go everywhere on the Internet and it would be very hard to actually find people -- and get back to their loved ones," he said. So Schwartz quickly emailed "all the developers I'd ever worked with."

In a few hours, he and 10 others had built, an online lost-and-found to help Haitians in and out of the country locate missing relatives.

The database, which anyone can update, was online less than 24 hours after the quake struck with more than 6,000 entries, because Schwartz and his colleagues wrote an "scraper" that gathered data from a Red Cross site.

Geany's Almost Magical Text-Editing Capabilities

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If you are looking for a superior text editor, your search might just begin and end with a nifty program called "Geany."

One of my biggest concerns when I switched from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows to Linux was finding an adequate replacement for my favorite text editor. For years, I used a commercial program called "TextPad," but it was a Windows-only product, so my search began.
I had no problem switching my word processor preference from Microsoft Word to Open's package. That provided a nearly identical suite of programs for word processing, spreadsheets and PowerPoint-type presentations.

However, much of the writing I do does not require a full-fledged word processing program. I use the OpenOffice Writer for printed versions of my work, but the right text editor can provide a more convenient writing platform for personal notes and posting assignments with editors via the Internet.

To be perfectly accurate, Geany is not a text editor per se. It was actually developed by its project contributors to provide a small and fast integrated development environment (IDE) with a dependency on only a few libraries so it would run on any Linux distribution without a lot of technical hand-holding.

As an IDE, Geany is a software application that provides comprehensive tools for programmers for software development. It is open source; its code is licensed under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

Nexus One stumbles as Google

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

GOOGLE is learning that it takes more than a big name and well-crafted hardware to be a star contender in the smartphone arena.

The company's Nexus One smartphone has stumbled since its grand US launch on January 5 as buyers grumble that there is nowhere to go but online for answers to complaints or questions.

"You would have to call their approach either naivete or hubris," said Interpret analyst and vice president of strategy Michael Gartenberg.

"Google has learned a number of things; most importantly that selling the device is only part of the equation."

The internet giant unveiled its new Nexus One smartphone in a direct challenge to heavyweight Apple's iPhone handsets, billing it as a "superphone" and the next step in the evolution of its Android software.
Google worked with Taiwanese electronics titan HTC to make the Nexus One handsets, sold exclusively from the internet company's online shop at

There are no real-world stores or service centers for the devices.

The touchscreen devices sell for $US179 ($194) if bought with service from T-Mobile, while "unlocked" handsets that can work with any telecom providers cost $US529 ($579) each.

"You have to wonder what Google was thinking putting this thing out there with no place for customers to call for support and automated email support that takes days to get answers," Mr Gartenberg said.

Lure of internet sees smartphone bills soar

Monday, February 1, 2010

SMARTPHONE users are seeing their phone bills increase by hundreds of dollars because of hefty download fees hidden in confusing mobile phone plans.

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive Allan Asher said mobile providers "trick" consumers into spending hundreds of dollars to surf the internet on new phones such as Apple's iPhone and the BlackBerry, The Australian reports.

He said companies sought to maximise data flows, often "deceiving" people into arrangements that looked attractive but turned out to be very expensive.

"This new technology will be retarded by these practices," he said.
He cited a Virgin mobile customer who assumed that her capped plan included data usage charges, but at the end of the month received a bill for $2000.

Choice media officer Elise Davidson said a friend was hit with $800 in excess charges when she downloaded some music tracks to her phone, believing that data downloads were included in the package.

She was able to avoid the charges by reporting the situation to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and taking the complaint number back to the mobile provider.

NSW Police have also warned parents that smartphones could be used by potential sex offenders and other criminals to make contact with children.