Sunday, November 23, 2008

Teenagers learn important social, technical skills online: study

Chinese gamers play online computer games at an internet cafe in Shanghai 2007. According to a study parents may disapprove of the amount of time their teenagers spend online but they are actually learning important social and technical skills.
Chinese gamers play online computer games at an internet cafe in Shanghai, 2007. According to a study parents may disapprove of the amount of time their teenagers spend online but they are actually learning important social and technical skills.

Parents may disapprove of the amount of time their teenagers spend online but they are actually learning important social and technical skills, according to a study released on Thursday.

"It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online," said Mizuko Ito, lead author of the study by the private, grantmaking MacArthur Foundation.
"There are myths about kids spending time online -- that it is dangerous or making them lazy," said Ito, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine.

"But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age," she said.

For the study, described as the most extensive ever conducted in the United States on teens and their use of digital media, researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, interviewed more than 800 young people and their parents over three years.

They also spent more than 5,000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.

"America's youth are developing important social and technical skills online -- often in ways adults do not understand or value," the study found. "There is a generation gap in how youth and adults view the value of online activity.

"Adults tend to be in the dark about what youth are doing online, and often view online activity as risky or an unproductive distraction," it said, while "youth understand the social value of online activity."

The study found that teenagers "are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online" and "learning basic social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society."

The study, which can be found online at, identified two categories of teen engagement with digital media: "friendship-driven" and "interest-driven."

Friendship-driven participation centered on "hanging out" with existing friends online while interest-driven participation involved accessing online information and outside communities, the study said.

"In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity, youth create and navigate new forms of expression and rules for social behavior," the study said.

"In the process, young people acquire various forms of technical and media literacy by exploring new interests, tinkering, and 'messing around' with new forms of media.

"Through trial and error, youth add new media skills to their repertoire, such as how to create a video or customize games or their MySpace page," it said.

The study said young people are motivated to learn from their peers online with the Internet providing "new kinds of public spaces for youth to interact and receive feedback from one another."

"Youth can connect with people in different locations and of different ages who share their interests, making it possible to pursue interests that might not be popular or valued with their local peer groups," the study said.

"Online spaces provide unprecedented opportunities for kids to expand their social worlds and engage in public life, whether that is connecting with peers over MySpace or Facebook, or publishing videos on YouTube," Ito said.

"Kids learn on the Internet in a self-directed way, by looking around for information they are interested in, or connecting with others who can help them.

"This is a big departure from how they are asked to learn in most schools, where the teacher is the expert and there is a fixed set of content to master."

The study also found that while many young people are gaining new literacy and technical skills, "they are also facing new challenges in how to manage their visibility and social relationships online."

"Online media, messages, and profiles that young people post can travel beyond expected audiences and are often difficult to eradicate after the fact," the study said.

© 2008 AFP

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10 Must Have Tools for Communicating with Clients

by Josh Catone

Communicating your clients is a necessary evil of contract web development, design, programming, writing, or any other freelance art form. Some clients are great — they communicate what they need very clearly from the get-go and things go smoothly from spec through to delivery. Others, though, will make you want to pull out your hair in frustration. Our round up of ten must have web-based tools below will help you communicate with either type of client, and generally make things easier on you and help you keep your sanity. As always, if you have any other suggestions for apps that you use, please let us know in the comments.

Backpack, a great application from 37signals, is probably where you should start. It’s a must have too for any freelancer’s arsenal that allows you to keep everything together. You can organize all the details of a client project on a Backpack page and then share that page with your client to keep them in the loop about what’s happening. You can even give them edit permissions so they can make changes or give you feedback as the project progresses.

A Y Combinator startup from a team of ex-Googlers that launched today with a good deal of fanfare, EtherPad enables dead-simple collaborative writing. Users can write together on the same document, in real time and see what every other party collaborating changes as they change it. It’s a great app that can be used along with Skype for hashing out project specifications with clients. Make sure you have all the details right from the start and avoid headaches down the road.

Sometimes, you need to share more than a simple text document with a client. Maybe you need to walk a client through changes made to their app, train them up on how to enter content into that new CMS, or show them a presentation of logo design pitches. Whatever the reason, when you need to demo something, you need Dimdim, a robust, open source screen sharing and web meeting application.

Often times, during a project you’ll need to send files back and forth with a client. Email is no good for larger files, and a private FTP server might be over your client’s head. We like senduit for passing files back and forth. It’s super simple and has a generous 100mb limit. Files are destroyed after a set period of time (30 minutes to one week) so you don’t have to worry about private client information leaking out.

When you’re working with multiple clients, it is easy to lose track of what needs doing. RememberTheMilk is one of the original to-do list web apps and remains one of the best. It’s simple, easy to use, works across a variety of platforms, and lists can be shared with clients so they can be kept abreast of your progress or add or clarify items if necessary.

One thing you’ll definitely want to take pains in communicating to your clients is how much you work you’ve completed and how long it took you to get it done. We recommend Harvest, a time-tracking application that also handles the invoicing and billing of your clients. If you make it a point to tie time tracking into other client communications, they’ll never expect that they owe you less than they do.

Faxing maybe a fairly old school method, but sometimes it’s still necessary (as in, for faxing signed contracts). If you only fax very occasionally, it might not make sense to invest in a fax machine. Instead, use FaxZero to send faxes for free. If you need to receive them as well, use jConnect to do that for free.

Now that you’re doing all this communicating, you’ll need to keep track of who you’re communicating with, what was said, and who needs to be called back. Highrise, another application from 37signals, is great for keeping track of everyone. It’s a customer relationship manager and address book tool that’s designed around the concept of tying tasks to people (i.e., “I have to reply to an email from Professor X, re: my beef with Wolverine”).

This one is for designers. Emailing concepts back and forth with clients, and waiting on their reply for feedback is clumsy. It leads to confusing emails like, “I like this part of Concept A, but this part of Concept B. If you could merge Concept A with Concept C, and use the colors from Concept B, I think we’d be closer.” Ahh! Enter ConceptShare, a web application specifically created to get feedback on designs, keep it organized, and make it easier to collaborate on design projects. Keep your client involved in the feedback process every step of the way and eliminate headaches (and up your chances of scoring repeat business!).

For those who work on large projects, senduit might not cut it for passing files back and forth. If you’re buried in files from clients, you need an asset management application like Fluxiom. Fluxiom is a super slick web-based asset manager that great for working with large, sprawling projects that have a lot of pieces to keep under control.

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Is white listing going mainstream?

Posted by Robert Vamosi

White lists will be on every desktop within the next five years, according to Patrick Morley, CEO of Massachusetts-based Bit9. Morley was in town to address the Dow Jones VentureWire Technology Showcase in Redwood City, Calif., on Tuesday. He stopped by CNET News afterward to discuss why he believes white listing will be important in the next few years.

The basic idea behind "white listing" is to define a set of software, a set of vendors, and allow only those trusted applications or files from those vendors to run on your machine. If a file or application is not approved, it will not run. This is the opposite of how we've blocked malware from our machines in the past.

Patrick Morley

Patrick Morley, CEO of Bit9, believes white listing will be important in the next few years.

(Credit: Bit9)

Of the more than 1 million viruses detected by antivirus vendors last year, more than two-thirds were new. Loading 1 million antivirus signatures (or even a percentage of that if generic signatures are used) is a pretty serious undertaking. The idea with white listing is to identify the applications and files we know to be good, which, in theory, should be considerably less than a million.

Over the years Bit9 has created one of the largest catalogs of "known good" and "known bad" applications. Its Global Software Registry (GSR) serves as the policy enforcement center for Bit9's enterprise offerings, ranging from Fortune 100 companies to retail companies like Marks & Spencer, 7-Eleven, and Ritz Camera.

Morley told me his company will continue to concentrate on enterprise solutions, but it is open to licensing agreements with consumer security companies. Already one agreement is public: Kaspersky is using a limited subset of the Bit9 GSR in its Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2009 and Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 product.

The challenge with commercial applications, Morley said, is not to turn the end user into a system administrator. In this case, Kaspersky made policy decisions for the end user and further allows the more advanced end user to customize the settings based on overall comfort level, not individual files.

During our talk, Morley took issue with antivirus vendors who are saying they too have white listing within their products. He said most have lists of good and bad software, but that they stop monitoring the applications after checking it once.

And many of the antivirus products are using community feedback to determine reputation. So if 1,500 users are showing this file on their PC, then Symantec, for example, is going to be more inclined to say that file probably should be on a person's desktop. Symantec says community feedback is just one of the criteria; there are researchers who will be confirming the reputation of a file as well.

"We look at the executable," Morley said. This gives Bit9 the ability to block an application even after it has launched, and then pass that knowledge to all its customers so everyone is protected.

Original here

Coupon Hacker Defeats DMCA Suit

By David Kravets

Mustard A California online coupon generating company is dropping its Digital Millennium Copyright Act lawsuit against a man sued for posting commands allowing users to print an unlimited number of valid coupons.

John Stottlemire was sued last year after posting the commands to his and other websites. He was accused of posting code and instructions allowing shoppers to circumvent copy protection on downloadable, printable coupons from Colgate, General Foods and others for everything from cereal to soap.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Coupons Inc. argued Stottlemire was no different from cracks like "DVD Jon" Johansen's program, DeCSS, which allowed the duplication of encrypted DVDs.

"Without being represented by an attorney, I defended myself in federal court against a company who solicited the services of two separate law firms," Stottlemire said. "And in my opinion, I kicked their ass. By refusing to succumb to their bullying tactics, I continued to assert my innocence and fought the claims Coupons Inc. filed against me. "

The 43-year-old Fremont, Calif., man insisted he did not circumvent any technology and instead found a weakness in Coupons Inc.'s software. Removing the key to the software's program limiting coupon production allowed users to acquire an unlimited number of coupons with unique, functioning serial codes.

Coupons Inc. declined comment. Terms of the dismissal were not made public. They do not require Stottlemire to remove the workaround, which is still published here.

Despite the settlement, the legal question at issue remains unsettled – whether Stottlemire's actions were unlawful under the DMCA. The 10-year-old law prohibits circumventing technology to work around measures to prevent the duplication of what Coupons Inc. claimed were copyrighted materials.

The question may be a moot point, at least for now. Coupons Inc. has countered Stottlemire's workaround, which no longer works.

Photo: JasonJT's Photostream

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Obama's cell phone records breached

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Records from a cell phone used by President-elect Obama were improperly breached, apparently by employees of the cell phone company, his transition team said Thursday.

An Obama spokesman said the transition team was told employees at Verizon Wireless looked through billing records.

An Obama spokesman said the transition team was told employees at Verizon Wireless looked through billing records.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the team was notified Wednesday by Verizon Wireless that it appears an employee improperly went through billing records for the phone, which Gibbs said Obama no longer uses.

In an internal company e-mail obtained by CNN, Verizon Wireless President and CEO Lowell McAdam disclosed Wednesday that "the personal wireless account of President-elect Barack Obama had been accessed by employees not authorized to do so" in recent months.

McAdam wrote in the e-mail that the phone in question has been inactive for "several months" and was a simple voice flip-phone, meaning none of Obama's e-mail could have been accessed.

The CEO also wrote the company has alerted "the appropriate federal law enforcement authorities."

Gibbs said that while the Secret Service has been notified, he is not aware of any criminal investigation. He said he believes it was billing records that were accessed.

Gibbs said that anyone viewing the records likely would have been able to see phone numbers and the frequency of calls Obama made, but that "nobody was monitoring voicemail or anything like that."

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has launched an internal probe to determine whether Obama's information was simply shared among employees or whether "the information of our customer had in any way been compromised outside our company, and this investigation continues," according to McAdam.

In the e-mail, McAdam said that employees who were permitted access to these records will be allowed to return to work, but employees who accessed the account for "anything other than legitimate business purposes will face disciplinary action, up to and including termination."

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Kernel vulnerability found in Vista

Posted by David Meyer

A flaw in Vista's networking has been found that can crash the system, but no fix is expected until the next service pack

A flaw has been found in Windows Vista that could allow rootkits to be hidden or denial-of-service attacks to be executed on computers using the operating system.

The vulnerability was found by Thomas Unterleitner of Austrian security company Phion and was announced Friday. Unterleitner told ZDNet UK on Friday that Phion told Microsoft about the flaw in October but that he understood a fix would only be issued in the next Vista service pack.

According to Unterleitner's disclosure of the flaw, the issue lies in the network input/output subsystem of Vista. Certain requests sent to the iphlpapi.dll API can cause a buffer overflow that corrupts the Vista kernel memory, resulting in a blue-screen-of-death crash.

"This buffer overflow could (also) be exploited to inject code, hence compromising client security," Unterleitner said.

Unterleitner told ZDNet UK via e-mail that the "exploit can be used to turn off the computer using a (denial-of-service) attack." He also suggested that, because the exploit occurs in the Netio.sys component of Vista, it may make it possible to hide rootkits.

Using a sample program, Unterleitner and his colleagues ascertained that Vista Enterprise and Vista Ultimate were definitely affected by the flaw, with other versions of Microsoft's operating system "very likely" to be affected as well. Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are vulnerable. Windows XP is not affected.

Asked about the severity of the flaw, Unterleitner pointed out that administrative rights were needed to execute a program calling the function that would cause the buffer overflow. However, he also said it was possible--but not yet confirmed--that someone could use a malformed DCHP packet to "take advantage of the exploit without administrative rights."

"We have worked together with Microsoft Security Response Center in Redmond since October 2008 to locate, classify and fix this bug," Unterleitner wrote. "Microsoft will ship a fix for this exploit with the next Vista service pack."

Microsoft told ZDNet UK on Friday that it had investigated the issue, but was "currently unaware of any attacks trying to use the vulnerability or of customer impact." It could not, however, confirm the inclusion of a fix for the problem in the next as-yet-unreleased service pack for Vista, nor give the release date for that service pack.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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Microsoft Yanks Fake Security Software

Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

malware, microsoft, patch, security

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Microsoft said that the anti-malware tool it pushes to Windows users as part of Patch Tuesday removed fake security software from nearly a million PCs during nine days this month.

In a post to the company's malware protection center blog on Wednesday, three of Microsoft's security researchers spelled out the impact this month's edition of the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) has had on phony security software. In the period from Nov. 11 to Nov. 19, said Scott Wu, Scott Molenkamp and Hamish O'Dea, MSRT purged more than 994,000 machines of what the tool recognizes as "W32/FakeSecSen," the malware label for a broad range of bogus security program with names such as "Advanced Antivirus," "Spyware Preventer," "Ultimate Antivirus 2008" and "XPert Antivirus."

Windows users have been plagued with a flood of worthless security software in recent months as criminals have discovered that they're money-makers. According to one researcher, cyber-crooks can pull in as much as US$5 million a year by installing the rogue programs on PCs, then dunning users with made-up claims that the machine is infected. Unless consumers fork over a payment -- usually $40 to $50 -- the constant stream of pop-up messages continue, making the machine hard to use.

Windows users may install the fake programs because they've been duped into thinking that they're real -- at times, bogus security software has been ranked high in Internet search results -- although the rogue applications are also often secretly installed by malware that's infected a system.

The clean-up job was one of Microsoft's biggest ever. In June 2008, MSRT sniffed out 1.2 million PCs infected with a family of password stealers, while in February, it scrubbed the Vundo Trojan from about a million machines. Over several months at the end of last year, the tool hit the then-notorious Storm Trojan hard, eventually eradicating it from a half-million PCs, something Microsoft bragged about later.

This time, Microsoft took the opportunity to pat itself on the back again. Although each FakeSecSen installation normally contains an .exe file, one or two .dat files, a control panel applet and other components, the MSRT found that only about 20% of the infected PCs it uncovered still harbored the .exe. (Other components remained, however, as evidence of the bogus program's installation.)

Microsoft speculated that the .exe files had been removed by other anti-malware software that had overlooked the other pieces. "Microsoft was able to thoroughly clean systems of FakeSecSen while other malware detection tools may not have caught and cleaned as many executables," said Bill Sisk, a Microsoft security spokesman, in an e-mail.

Windows users can download the MSRT manually from Microsoft's Web site, or via the Windows Update service.

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Microsoft modifies Zune subscription model

(Reuters) - Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) on Thursday announced a new music subscription plan for owners of its Zune players, which would allow them to keep 10 tracks per month and add them to their permanent collection.

The Zune Pass subscription service currently gives consumers on-demand access to millions of tracks for $14.99 per month.

Effective Thursday, the software company's modified subscription plan would allow owners of Zune to keep 10 tracks per month, which has an estimated value of $10. The users can also add those tracks to their permanent collection.

The company said agreements have been signed with the big four music labels -- EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group -- and also with a few independent distributors.

A Zune Pass would allow the user to download music and the downloaded content can be shared among up to three PCs and three Zune devices, the company said.

Zune Pass subscribers can retain digital rights management (DRM)-free MP3 tracks from Sony BMG and UMG.

The tracks can be burned to a CD or moved to other devices even if the subscription ends, the company said.

(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; ; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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IE8 slips into 2009 - good or bad news?

By Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) – The general manager for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Dean Hachamovitch, revealed in a surprise blog post that Microsoft will not release the final version of Internet Explorer during the remaining six weeks of the year. Instead the company now plans on providing a release candidate, which will close the beta period and behave like the final product, Hachamovitch executive said. The reason? To look at all the feedback that has been provided so far. But there may be an unknown variable as well.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is increasingly under pressure from rivals such as Firefox and Safari, which are consistently gaining ground on the dominant browser on the Internet. In a time where IE market share seems to breaking away every week, we learn that IE8 will not, as widely anticipated, launched in 2008, but in Q1 2009 at the earliest.

Hachamovitch’s post does not provide a clear idea why the browser may have been delayed, but he noted that Microsoft was not able to deliver IE8 without the information that was provided by “over 20 million IE sessions and hundreds of hours of usability lab sessions”, “thousands of threads from user forums” and “hundreds of hours listening and answering questions in meetings with partners and other important organizations.”

Following feedback the company received during the IE7 release, Hachamovitch said he wanted to be clear about the plan for IE8 and wrote:

“We will release one more public update of IE8 in the first quarter of 2009, and then follow that up with the final release. Our next public release of IE (typically called a “release candidate”) indicates the end of the beta period. We want the technical community of people and organizations interested in web browsers to take this update as a strong signal that IE8 is effectively complete and done. They should expect the final product to behave as this update does.”

Microsoft will still take note of critical issues (“issues impacting robustness, security, backwards compatibility, or completeness with respect to planned standards work”), but it appears that IE8 RC1 will be feature complete and represent the software users can expect in the final release. The feedback to Microsoft will also determine the final release date of IE8.

TG Daily’s take

Whether the apparent delay is a good or bad decision remains to be seen, but we believe that Microsoft in fact has a good reason for taking another look at its next-gen browser.

Since the release of the first IE8 beta, the browser market has taken a dramatic turn and somewhat outmaneuvered Microsoft’s strategy. While Microsoft promised to be more standard-compliant than ever before, the browser has not reflected that promise in the Acid3 test so far. Also, Microsoft decided to add two more proprietary features, web slices and activities, which very few may have really use for.

In the meantime, a browser speed race - that quite apparently caught Microsoft on the wrong foot - has developed between Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Firefox. While Chrome and Safari are insignificant to the browser market as a whole at this time (according to Net Applications at 0.7% and 6% share, respectively), Firefox is accelerating its pace at the expense of IE.

Daily browser market share data provided by Net Applications suggests that, if nothing earth shattering happens in the remaining days of November, that Firefox will post its first 20%+ market share for this month. Daily market share estimates for Firefox range between 19.7% and 21.9% at this time – a record level for the Mozilla software.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is likely to see another decline in November. IE’s market share swings are much greater than those of Firefox: The posted share has been between 64% and 74% in November, according to Net Applications. Those declines can be mainly attributed to the use of Internet Explorer 6 in business environments. While the browser is still listed with a market share of up to 24% during the week, its share drops consistently over the weekend - to as low as 16%. IE8 Beta, by the way, currently hovers around 0.7% - 0.8% market share, according to Net Applications’ charts.

IE6 may pose the greatest threat to Microsoft’s browser market share dominance. When those systems enter upgrade cycles and if Mozilla or any other browser manufacturer can convince businesses to adapt their browsers, Microsoft could be facing a landslide loss and may be in danger of dropping below the 50% mark in the browser market. If we look at what really counts in business environments - security and productivity - then Microsoft is at a clear disadvantage right now. IE8 is in no position to effectively compete with Firefox at this time.

From this perspective, Microsoft may actually have all the reasons to delay IE8 for a few weeks and take a closer look at the browser’s competitiveness.

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Editor's Note: Linux Should Copy Amiga

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Mark Shuttleworth made headlines not too long ago when he called for the Linux desktop to surpass Mac OS X in both beauty and functionality. While a lot of folks thought that was breathtaking and audacious, I think he's aiming too low. I think Linux should aspire to equal or better the AmigaOS.

I'm not much of an Apple fan-- I don't care for the Apple desktop, even though my first ever computer was a Macintosh LC II, and I've had several Macs since then. To me it feels itchy and galling, like a scritchy wool shirt on a warm day. But that's a question of preference, and for all I know Mr. Shuttleworth is on the right track. But I think there is a better model to aspire to, and that is the AmigaOS.

What On Earth Is An Amiga?

AmigaOS was far ahead of its time. Born around 1985, it evolved into a genuine 32-bit multi-threaded, multi-tasking, multi-media operating system. I got to play with an Amiga PC with back around 1998 or so, and it was an amazing experience. It made Windows 95 and the Mac look like obese, inflexible, unstable toys. Wikipedia quotes John Dvorak as saying

"The AmigaOS remains one of the great operating systems of the past 20 years, incorporating a small kernel and tremendous multitasking capabilities the likes of which have only recently been developed in OS/2 and Windows NT. The biggest difference is that the AmigaOS could operate fully and multitask in as little as 250 K of address space. Even today, the OS is only about 1MB in size."
AmigaOS is proprietary and closed-source, lost funding in the 2001 tech crash, and almost kicked the bucket. (Yet another lesson in the benefits of an libre/open source development model.) But it did not die entirely and it is still actively developed, though it's currently bogged down in a lawsuit over who really owns it. So obviously, there are some features of it that we would be advised to not emulate.

Amiga - the little computer that could is an excellent summary of the features that keep love for AmigaOS alive. In summary: the human user is #1. Not the developers, not the code, not talented but impractical designers and gobs of special effects-- the user. What a concept-- a computer designed to make life for the user as efficient and pleasant as possible. The main feature that wins my heart is user input is always given the highest priority. You are not kept waiting while some slacker background process ambles its way to completion-- when you, the human, the one supposedly in charge, clicks the mouse or presses a key, Amiga instantly obeys. Ever since I started using PCs the number one item on my wishlist is "Obey me first!" A wish that is still unfulfilled. When some horribly-scripted Web page eats up my CPU cycles and brings everything to a screeching halt, when I fat-finger and accidentally run the wrong commands, I want an instant "go away now" key. Why should I wait? Amiga doesn't make you wait.

There has been a lot of work on the Linux kernel that addresses this issue, and Ubuntu (for one) supposedly tunes its desktop kernel to be more user-responsive. If it is it's a subtle difference.

Some other genuinely user-friendly features are a sensible, truly intuitive GUI; fast on and instant off; easily customizable in all kinds of ways; intelligent localisation; ordered window stacking (I guarantee the first time you try this you'll fall in love); and an overall responsiveness and peppiness that will spoil you for any other operating system. And as much as we like to boast of Linux's friendliness to older, weaker hardware, AmigaOS is definitely the efficiency winner. Though this efficiency comes at a significant cost-- Amiga, like the Mac OS, derives much of its efficiency from being closely tied to the hardware.

As I read "Amiga - the little computer that could" I kept thinking how much more it sounded like a good inspiration for Linux than Apple. Most of the concepts are similar: power under the hood in easy reach, a shiny polished easily-customizable exterior, and an overall goal of putting the user in ultimate control. Put Amiga's friendliness on top of Linux's raw power, flexibility, and openness-- now that would be a world-beater.

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SimplyMEPIS: The best desktop Linux you haven't tried

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Nowadays, everyone uses Ubuntu, most people have used Fedora, and many folks have tried openSUSE. SimplyMEPIS ... not so many. That's a shame, because this relatively obscure Debian-based desktop distribution from Morgantown, WV, is an outstanding desktop operating system. With SimplyMEPIS 8 at beta 5 and closing in on release, I tested the distribution and found it to be a keeper.

I downloaded SimplyMEPIS from one of its mirror sites and burned the ISO file to a CD, then installed it on a Dell Inspiron 530s, powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800MHz front side bus, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 Graphics Media Accelerator.

On this system, I started by running SimplyMEPIS from its live CD. It ran without a hitch, so I moved on to installing the distribution. The SimplyMEPIS installation took approximately 15 minutes. I opted to use ext3 for my filesystem, rather than ext2 and ReiserFS; it's not the fastest or most up-to-date journaled file system, but it's about as stable as they come.

Like most modern Linuxes, SimplyMEPIS can use the entire hard dark for the distribution, or you can modify an existing partition table with GParted. I opted to shrink down the existing Windows NTFS partition, delete the factory-installed recovery partition, and create a main primary partition and a separate primary swap partition. GParted made it easy to do, and reminded me that not so long ago changing and configuring hard drive partitions required equal parts magic and hope.

A single CD distribution, MEPIS offers a limited selection of KDE 3.5.* packages out of the box. To get other software choices, you'll need to download them from the Debian and MEPIS software repositories. SimplyMEPIS boots into a KDE 3.5.9 desktop. SimplyMEPIS's developer, Warren Woodford doesn't care for KDE 4.x, so he's elected to stick with classic KDE. The older software works just fine.

The distribution itself is built on top of Debian 5 (Lenny), which hasn't yet been released. Even so, Woodford isn't waiting on Lenny's release to include newer software. For example, SimplyMEPIS uses the kernel.

You'll also find the newest software among SimplyMEPIS's applications. The distribution includes the newest version of Sun's VirtualBox virtual machine, virtualbox-ose 2.0.4; the latest office suite, 3.0.0-4; and Firefox 3.0.3-3. Curiously, SimplyMEPIS 8 doesn't include Firefox's email sibling, Thunderbird, in its basic package. Instead, its default email program is KMail.

Of course, since SimplyMEPIS comes with the Synaptic package manager and the Debian Lenny and SimplyMEPIS repositories ready to go, installing Thunderbird, or in my case, the GNOME Evolution mail client, is no trouble at all.

While working with the applications, I found one odd error. While the distribution came with the new Adobe Flash Player 10 browser plugin installed, it would not display Flash video in Firefox. I finally solved the problem by reinstalling Flash Player from the repository.

For all other purposes, over days of use, SimplyMEPIS worked flawlessly. I used my usual applications -- Firefox, Evolution,, Pidgin for IM, Banshee for music, and Konqueror for file management -- and everything went as smooth as silk.

Of course, I could have used any other KDE-based distribution and gotten pretty much the same results, but SimplyMEPIS's greatest charm is that it works so well as a seamless whole.

While you might get similar results from any KDE-based distribution, SimplyMEPIS offers something extra in its collection of four system tuning tools: MEPIS Network Assistant, MEPIS System Assistant, MEPIS User Assistant, and MEPIS X-Windows Assistant. You can get to these from the main KDE menu's System option.

Each of these brings together important Linux controls in a logical, easy-to-use way. For example, the Network Assistant gives you control over all your network interfaces, both Ethernet and Wi-Fi, as well as DHCP and DNS settings, and lets you stop and restart network interfaces. Sure, you can do that with other Linux distributions, but SimplyMEPIS puts all the network controls you need in one place so you don't need to search for them.

Two of the other assistants add even more functionality. The System Assistant, besides enabling you to change your computer's name, domain, and Samba/Windows workgroup/domain and repair your boot or partitions, also lets you clone your existing desktop to a bootable USB drive. Lots of distributions, including Fedora 9, let you set up a Linux desktop on a USB drive, but, to the best of my knowledge, SimplyMEPIS is the only one to make it duplicate the one you're already using to take with you on the road.

The MEPIS User Assistant enables you to copy or sync between desktops. Your choices include copying or syncing your entire home directory or just your mail, Mozilla, documents, or configuration directories. It's a pretty darn handy tool both for backups and for moving from one PC to another.

The overall impact of SimplyMEPIS's smooth integration and its user-friendly utilities is to make it a truly outstanding Linux desktop. I've been using desktop Linux for more than a decade, and I keep coming back to SimplyMEPIS. Version 8 is good enough that I'm not taking it off my test machine. Instead, I've migrated all my files to the SimplyMEPIS PC and made it my main desktop system. That's how good it is: good enough that SimplyMEPIS is now my number one desktop.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the operating system of choice for PCs and 2BSD Unix was what the cool kids used on their computers.

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Facebook Etiquette: Five Dos and Don'ts

C.G. Lynch,

facebook, zucker, social networkBalancing your work and personal life on social networking tools such as Facebook has become more complex than ever -- and the dangers go beyond the well-publicized examples of posting party pictures to your profile.

A more subtle faux pas can affect your online reputation and even future job path, as your friend list on Facebook includes both personal and professional contacts. Information you post can mess up your work relationships and personal ones in one quick swoop.

For example, the immediacy and ease with which you can post a quip on Facebook may get you into trouble if you're teasing your significant other -- plus tell work colleagues more than they need or want to know about your relationship. This recent story of a man caught cheating by his wife when she perused his iPhone got us thinking: In this day of gadgetry and near-constant contact via social networking, how can you avoid blunders that will deem you a thoughtless spouse, friend or colleague?

Kirsten Dixson, a reputation management and online identity expert, has some tips to keep you on the appropriate social networking etiquette path. Because Facebook mixes your personal and professional life, she says it requires more careful attention than LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, which keeps a strictly all-business look and feel due to its design.

Here are Dixson's suggestions for managing your Facebook profile and your overall social networking persona, and warnings about places where you can get into trouble with people who matter to you personally and professionally.

1. Choosing your profile picture

Thoughtful: Some people militantly believe that Facebook is all personal while LinkedIn is all professional. If this sounds like you, you might choose a Facebook pic of yourself fishing, hanging out at a party or playing a guitar. But Dixson says you're better off to err on the side of caution here, by keeping your profile picture professional, or at least neutral. Your photo doesn't need to be in a studio with a boring canvas backdrop - it could be outside on your deck or on a mountain side, for instance - but it has to be fairly even-keeled. (This is different than LinkedIn, where photos should be strictly professional, Dixson says).

Thoughtless: According to Dixson, don't post profile pictures that are "too sexy, cartoonish or that might alienate your audience." A look through your friend list can usually reveal the ones she's talking about. The stylized glamour shot, the quick snapshot of slicked up hair or low-cut dresses taken right before heading to a party, or worse, costume-like pics: wet suits and surfboards, bike gear, Halloween outfits -the list goes on.

2. Filling Out Your Biography

Thoughtful: The biographical section of social networks vary. On Facebook, the service provides fields for a variety of interests, both professional and personal. Don't be afraid to post some nuggets that convey who you are, within reason. On Facebook, you can decide with great granularity what information people can view by altering your privacy settings. For instance, you can set it so every visitor to your profile sees that you enjoy golfing, reading and civil war history, but maybe only a certain group of people see your religion, political affiliations and relationships. For Facebook's "About me" section, building on the Twitter doctrine, Dixson says to be short and concise. Don't worry about being clever.

Thoughtless: While there aren't many numbers to back this assertion (because Facebook is a private company, and data can be hard to come by), most social networking and identity experts believe a great many Facebook users never so much as glance at their privacy settings pages. The same probably holds true for other social networks. Remember that social networks plan to monetize their service by ensuring that you share as much information as possible. As such, you should believe that they'll share as much information about you as they can, and make it available to the widest audience.

The default settings for Facebook, for example, make all your profile information available for everyone on the service to see. "Assume from the get go that anything you put in there is viewable on the public internet," Dixson says. "Go in with that line of thinking. Then go in and say, if you don't want to make certain information available to certain people, go turn them off with the privacy settings."

With the information you do share, avoid being vain. Social networks do enable, if not encourage, a bit of narcissism. But don't assume people want to read a novel about your life. Also, be protective of your family. It's fine to list yourself as "married" in the info section, for instance, but don't necessarily feel that you have to put down a link to your significant other. If you have young children, for their protection and privacy, Dixson recommends you don't include their names anywhere in the bio or in pictures of them that you decide to share.

Oh, and a word about age. While you may want to include your birthday on your Facebook profile, so people can message you on the big day, you should exclude the birth year, Dixson says. Your friends and family know how old you are, and there's no reason for your professional ones to know.

3. Posting content, links, and news

facebook, social network Thoughtful: Post content that highlights your personal interests and your professional areas of expertise. A marketing professional might post some interesting links for a relevant trade publication he or she wanted to share, for example. Posting personal picture slideshows is fine -- again, within reason. You clearly want to avoid the aforementioned pitfalls of displaying shots of wild revelry. But for all the agony about what's acceptable and what's not, remember that offering contacts a decent glimpse into what makes you you can have business benefits. "It strengthens relationships," Dixson says. "It really helps establish connections. People like to do business with people they know."

Thoughtless: Spamming people is a big no-no, as it can irrevocably ruin your social capital. It's great to be so passionate about things in both your professional life and personal life that you feel compelled to share it with people who are important to you, but remember that people can only take so much time out of their day. Also, don't assume they care about every little thing in your personal life. People know you're proud of your kids, for example, and that speaks to your commitment as a parent. Yet you need to know when to draw the line somewhere in how much they want to hear.

Definitely keep your romantic break-ups and get-togethers in private forums, like e-mails, IMs and (who still uses it anymore?) the phone.

Oh, and this one should be self-explanatory: don't go flapping your gums about your company's affairs.

4. Talking to One vs. Many

Thoughtful: Posing a question to your entire network is OK, provided it's relevant to all of them, or at least won't be viewed as a nuisance. For instance, you might ask, "Getting a new phone. iPhone or BlackBerry?" Such a question will be relevant to a lot of folks who have gone through the same issue. The key is, if you're on the receiving end and want to weigh in on such an issue, be sure to respond to that person only - unless it's been made clear that he or she wants your comments public. This way, you avoid spamming people.

Thoughtless: Know that self-satisfied guy who unrelentingly decides to hit reply-all to every group e-mail that's sent in your company? You don't want to be that guy on social networks. On Facebook, one of the most utilized features is the Wall. It's a fun place to leave publicly displayed messages and a bit of witty banter. However, making specific plans with a person on the Wall, for example, is rude to that person's other profile visitors. Too many times, you see "let's get a drink at 5 today" posted to someone's Wall. Unless you want to include all of that person's friends in on the social engagement, there's no reason not to pose that question in the private messaging section of Facebook (or any social network for that matter; Twitter, for instance, has the direct message function).

5. Watching Your Tone

Thoughtful: It's important to keep a polite and measured tone on social networks; after all, the mainstream ones like Facebook are an extension of our lives in real life (that's not necessarily the case in virtual worlds, but that's a whole other topic). Say things you'd feel comfortable saying in person, and avoid inside jokes that only a few of your contacts would understand.

Thoughtless: With a social network that is fairly open, nobody is really going to be impressed when you post inside jokes that they don't understand; in fact, you run the risk of insulting people if they think you're making some veiled or coded comment about them. Remember, within most social networks, you can set up private groups where those kinds of exchanges will not only be more appropriate, but also encouraged. "It's better to be clear than clever," Dixson says. "Don't expect people to get it. Be very explicit."

Finally, sarcastic humor and anger can be dangerous in social network postings, just as they are in e-mail messages. Think twice before sharing. (For more e-mail etiquette tips, see Ten Things You Should Never Put in E-Mail.)

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How to Make the Best Torrents

Written by Ben Jones

Making a torrent properly is one of the most overlooked aspects in torrenting. Most users of bittorrent only create the .torrent files occasionally, if at all, and others make bad choices and mistakes, which can antagonise people, or make torrents slow to propagate, and lead to an early death.

In the past, we’ve covered how to make a torrent, and possible ways to revitalise a dead torrent. This time, we’ll cover what steps you can take to keep a torrent as healthy as possible for as long as possible.


A mistake that was common just a few months ago, was throwing out torrents with multiple trackers listed on it. Until recently, a number of torrents listed on the Pirate Bay, had the same tracker listed multiple times under different aliases, something they have since corrected. There are also occasions where up-to a dozen different trackers are listed, all for one torrent.

Some might argue that adding more trackers to a torrent is a good thing, but the fact is, it’s often harming things. Clients that can only handle one tracker, will only announce to the first one listed, and ignore any subsequent trackers listed. Multi-tracker capable clients will announce to the first tracker, as well as any subsequent ones, depending on how they are grouped. The thing is, every peer on the second tracker, will also have announced to the first tracker, and would be available there. However, the peers on the first tracker may not be on any other trackers.

At the end of the day, you’ve gained no new peers (unless the initial tracker was overloaded or down) but used up connection time and bandwidth on your connection, and more importantly, you’ve added an extra load to a tracker. While it may not seem a lot, with even a single thousand-peer torrent, and a 15 minute limit on re-announcing, that’s 4000 extra, needless connections per hour, per torrent.

The solution, use DHT if your client supports it, or if you’re strongly adverse to DHT but feel there is a possibility that the tracker might go offline, you can use a second fall-back tracker. Don’t disable DHT for the torrent though (by setting the private flag) because it can help the torrent die that much faster.

Padding Files

This is a little foible that’s pretty much unique to the BitComet clients. A padding file is an extra file, comprising junk data that’s added to torrents, so that files all start at the beginning of a torrent piece. In theory, this means that if you only want certain files in a torrent, you don’t have to download an extra part, belonging to another file. It is also supposed to make torrent ‘previews’ easier.

However, you don’t save any data downloaded. What you gain from the front will even out with the added data needed for the larger padding file needed at the beginning. Worse, if you’re downloading multiple files, the padding files can add up in size, and examples have been seen where padding files have been 25% of the total torrent size.

For the average user, there is no good reason to use padding files. The is certainly no reason that compensates for the added irritation those files give to other users, or the increased data bulking up the torrent.

Piece Size

Piece size is the bit that can make a torrent seeded on a home connection scale well, or make even the best seeded torrent bog down. At its heart, it’s how big each piece is that is checked, and distributed, but also how much data you discard for a hash-fail. Make the pieces too few and big, and it can be very hard for a peer to get started, too many small pieces will use more of a peers connection for overhead.

It’s a delicate balance, that is not easily found. Small pieces make it less susceptible to poisoning attacks (as practiced by MediaDefender, among others) and will help a torrent deal with sudden increases in peers, by making it easy to get a piece or two to trade. However, keeping track of who has what piece requires bandwidth, and small pieces mean that you will be telling connected peers about pieces you have just got more often.

After a number of years toying around, the optimum number of pieces seems to be between 1200 and 2200. Most torrent creators will only allow piece-sizes in multiples of 16kb, so you should, with few exceptions, find a size that fits in that range. A 700Mb torrent should be 512Kb pieces (giving 1400 total) and similarly, 350Mb would be better with 256kb. A 4.5Gb torrent would have 2,250 pieces, roughly, with a 2Mb piece-size. Or 1,125 with 4Mb. Either way would be fine, but 256kb pieces would mean 17,500+ pieces, and is too many.

File Layout

The file-layout is something that can be key in determining how long the torrent lasts. The layout of a torrent and the data in it, is one of the most important factors in torrent longevity. In general, rars are not encouraged, and can lead to a shorter torrent life. Mainly this is down to the doubling of space this requires, space for the files, and space for the torrented rar. The only observed exception to this seems to be ’scene rars’ where the rar files are widely available from multiple sources.

For multiple file torrents, directory names are also as important as file names. An accurate, and descriptive directory name frustrates less, than one called “temp” or “001” which can clash with similar named directories on client computers. It should also be noted that although most torrent creators will name the torrent file after the parent directory in the torrent, the torrent file can later be renamed without worry. There is a general misconception that torrents can only contain a certain number of individual files, which is not true.

Also, be wary in adding extra files, such as small text files with a hello, or attribution. Without this exact file the piece can not later be resurrected in a reseed. The more complex the file, the harder a reconstruction, if someone else wants to reseed. That music video of your band might be on someone’s hard drive, but if you had a fancy nfo file full of ASCII-art, which someone has deleted, it not only won’t reseed, but will delete the end of the re-seeders copy of the video when it is hash-checked.

Connection Settings

Finally, and not directly related to making a torrent, make sure your connection settings are optimized. We have published hints on optimizing µtorrent and Azureus/Vuze in the past, as well as more general guides. Make your torrents right, and they will last longer, providing you follow one last tip – SEED. Without seeding, any torrent will die sooner.

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Google Powered BitTorrent Seach Engines

Written by Ernesto

Running a BitTorrent site can be quite costly. Most of the larger sites need over a dozen servers to keep everything running smoothly. There are some scalable alternatives for BitTorrent startups though. Two relatively unknown meta-search engines have taken a different route by using Google’s App Engine, which provides optimal scalability, for free.

app engineV0rtex and TorrentTab are two sites using Google’s resources to search for torrents. By using Google’s App Engine, they can run their sites without having to invest a single dime in hardware or bandwidth.

On a free account, users of Google’s App Engine can host 500MB data, and serve up to 5 million page views a month. This is more than enough for a medium sized BitTorrent site. At the moment it is not possible to upgrade these limits, since paid accounts are not yet available, but this might change in the future.

Both sites are totally ad free, and great resources to search for torrents. V0rtex currently searches 12 BitTorrent sites, including established sites such as Mininova, The Pirate Bay and isoHunt. The site itself has a clean look and feel, and the search results are sortable by date, peers, seeds and more.


TorrentFreak spoke with Reda, the developer of the site, who told us that he started the project to learn how to code. “It was really fun and exciting to learn Python and Javascript/Ajax,” he said. His goal is not to compete with the big players though. Reda hasn’t even bothered to register a domain name for it since it was mainly a learning experience.

This is different for the other BitTorrent meta search engine hosted on Google’s App Engine, which does have its own domain. TorrentTab, which is a project of David Sánchez, is also using Google’s architecture to search for torrents. The site currently searches 10 sites, and presents the search results in tabs using Google Ajax Feed API.

David told TorrentFreak that he initially started the site on his own Internet connection. When the site started to attract more visitors, he had to find an alternative. Google’s App Engine seemed to be a great solution, so he recoded the site in Python and moved it over to Google’s infrastructure.


Unlike some of the other meta-search engines that use tabbed search results, TorrentTab is not merely loading the results from the other sites in a frame. Unfortunately there are no sorting options for the search results, which makes it hard to find the best seeded files, or the latest uploads.

Although V0rtex and TorrentTab are are not revolutionary in terms of features or functionality, it is great to see that Google is providing a free playground for BitTorrent startups. It’s always good to see some variety.

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Verizon Wireless bets on Storm for holiday season


By Sinead Carew

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verizon Wireless is betting on the new BlackBerry Storm for the all-important holiday season, hoping the highly anticipated smartphone can compete against the iPhone offered by rival wireless provider AT&T Inc.

The No. 2 U.S. mobile service, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, heavily promoted four different phones last holiday season, but its focus this year is directed firmly at Research In Motion Ltd's first touch-screen phone.

"This is our big holiday season phone," said Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney, adding the Storm was a game changer and Verizon would do more marketing for it than any other phone in the fourth quarter.

Both the Storm and Apple Inc's iPhone cost $200 for customers who agree to a two-year service contract and both come with a built-in camera, and music and video players.

But the Storm, which goes on sale in the United States on November 21, has a different approach to touch-screen typing that RIM hopes will win over people addicted to the keypads on other BlackBerry e-mail devices.

Instead of tapping lightly on the screen, as with iPhone, Storm users have to press firmly until they feel a physical click more similar to the experience of typing on keypads.

And while iPhone users make a pinching motion with two fingers to reduce or enlarge a Web page, Storm users tap twice to zoom in or tap a magnifying glass icon to zoom out.

The Storm is the latest bet on the consumer market for RIM, which has long-dominated the corporate world with BlackBerry.

Verizon Wireless also hopes the Storm will help it win over consumers, as well as business clients eyeing touch-screens.

The idea is that, if a company has already set up its security and e-mail systems to support the BlackBerry, buying a Storm would be easier than trying to make systems compatible with the iPhone, which also supports corporate e-mail.

Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said Apple's consumer fans would probably still go for the iPhone, but big corporations or consumers who are looking to move to Verizon's network would likely favor Storm.

"Companies that insist on using BlackBerry will be thrilled with the Storm ... Quite frankly it's sexy -- having a big touch screen with a BlackBerry," he said, adding that over half of new BlackBerry buyers are consumers these days.

Aside from corporate email, which is RIM's area of expertise, Greengart said the Storm's Web navigation works very well compared with the G1, made by HTC Corp and uses the Android operating system from Google Inc, and LG Electronics Inc's Incite. The G1 is carried by T-Mobile, while the Incite is sold by AT&T.

"One of the key problems with most smartphones is that half the time you're trying to scroll down the page and the phone thinks you selected a link," said Greengart, noting that only the iPhone and Storm have solved that problem.

"Flick your finger down and half the time it scrolls correctly, half the time it thinks you've selected a link," he said, referring to Web surfing on LG's Incite.

Industry watchers do not expect consumers to line up around the block for the Storm like they did for the iPhone, but they say there is pent up demand for a good touch-screen phone from Verizon Wireless.

Vodafone said thousands of customers had ordered the Storm in advance of its U.K. launch on Friday, November 14, but the company has not updated figures since then. The Storm is free for people who sign Vodafone contracts.

RIM, whose BlackBerry devices have long been popular with executives looking to email on the go, has also used the Storm's touch-screen to give users new options for navigating and searching their email inbox.

For example, if you are in one email, to get to the next one you can slide your finger to the right of the screen rather than having to exit the message first.

(Editing by Andre Grenon)

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SnapTell: Instant Product Lookup From The iPhone. You Want This.

by Jason Kincaid

If you have an iPhone, you’ll probably want to check out SnapTell Explorer, a free application now available on the App Store. The premise is simple: take a photo of the cover of any CD, DVD, book, or video game, and the application will automatically identify the product and find ratings and pricing information online.

I was skeptical when I first saw the app - the iPhone has had difficulty with image processing for barcodes, and most image recognitions systems I’ve tried on other platforms have been iffy at best. But SnapTell just works. Every time.

The app correctly identified just about everything I threw at it: Xbox games, Pocketbook O’Reilly manuals, The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom, Kurt Vonegut novels, and a number of more obscure books (yes, it worked on The Twinkies Cookbook). It even managed to ID a copy of Civilization 4, despite the fact that it was covered in obnoxious price tags and stickers. I actually tried to mess it up by taking photos in poor lighting and odd angles, but the app still stayed nearly flawless. No, it doesn’t have everything - I managed to stump it on a book about Danish Grammar - but it will do just fine for any trip to a retail store.

But while SnapTell seems to have the technology perfected, the app itself still needs a little work. Once you’ve located a product there is no rating or description offered - instead you’re directed to the appropriate links on stores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble (it would be nice if some basic rating information was pulled into the app). There’s also currently no way to quickly view a product’s price across multiple online stores, though this will be included in the next release which is expected in the next few weeks. The UI could also use some more polish - buttons are oddly placed, and the app doesn’t look nearly as slick as it should.

SnapTell works best on Wi-Fi and 3G, but also supports Edge (it takes around 10-15 seconds to upload the image on the slower network, versus a moment or two). The application will also be coming to the Android soon, and will feature both the image recognition seen on the iPhone version as well as barcode lookup (which is popular on Android but very difficult to pull off on the iPhone). The app was developed by SnapTell, a company that primarily focuses on image-recognition based marketing, and is making use of the company’s 5 million+ product database.

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Samsung Starts Mass Production of 256GB SSDs

Agam Shah, IDG News Service

Samsung Electronics has started mass production of 256G-byte solid-state drives, which could make their way into laptops in a few months, the company announced Thursday.

Solid-state drives, or SSDs, store data on flash memory chips and are often compared to hard drives, which store data on magnetic platters. SSDs consume less power and have no moving parts, making them less vulnerable to failure compared to hard drives. Growing adoption has erased initial concerns about SSD durability, but it has a lesser storage capacity and remains more expensive than hard drives.

The 256G-byte SSD is the highest-capacity to date for the consumer electronics market so this announcement is big for laptop users, said Gregory Wong, president of analyst firm Forward Insights. Most laptops today that have SSDs have 128G-byte drives.

The new SSD is available now, a Samsung spokeswoman said. She could not provide pricing information.

It could be about two months until the new SSDs are in laptops, Wong said. Companies that use Samsung SSDs include Apple and Dell.

The new SSD doubles sequential data transfers compared to Samsung's earlier SSDs, the company said. It offers read rates of 220M bytes per second and write rates of 200M bytes per second.

Sequential data transfers occur when PCs are booted or large files are copied, for example, Wong said. However, because most PC tasks are random rather than sequential it makes more sense to use random performance as a measure, Wong said, adding that random performance tends to suffer if the SSD is set up to measure sequential performance.

Samsung couldn't immediately provide the measurements of the SSD's random read and write cycle.

Users may initially pay a premium for the new SSD, Wong said. Potential buyers might also compare prices and realize that hard-drive capacities are increasing while prices are dropping and that could hinder adoption of Samsung's 256G-byte SSD.

"Even with NAND flash prices coming down, there will be a sequential premium compared to hard-disk drives," Wong said, with the new SSD costing more.

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In a fit of irony, iPhone pirating app gets pirated

By Erica Sadun

The Hackulous pirating site is dedicated to cracking and distributing iPhone applications without paying any money to their developers. In what can only be described as hilarious irony, a beta version of that application was itself pirated and released (cached) before it could enter a full open-source distribution.

SaladFork, the author of Crackulous, called the leak "absolutely disgusting, and downright insulting." He writes about his pride of development, saying, "[I] have released a new version of Crackulous almost every day or two, fixing all the bugs that had been reported up until that day. I was proud of Crackulous, and put a large majority of my free time into ensuring it will be the best application it possibly could be. I responded to beta tester feedback, and each version of Crackulous was better than the last."

Alas, one of his pirate compatriots betrayed him, allowing the Crackulous beta to be freely downloaded. After a time of reflection and calming down, SaladFork announced that he would not, after all, be abandoning the project (cached) and looks forward to a public release. He asked, however, that bloggers and forum members not spread the leak, putting his faith in their humanity and goodness. He wrote, "Several of you had noticed the irony in me complaining that a tool used to steal from other developers was stolen, but I hope you realize the difference in situation. iPhone developers almost always (99% of the time) develop applications for the App Store in hopes of getting money."

Leaving aside the obvious jokes about honor among thieves, it's a shame this experience was not more of an ethical learning opportunity for Mr. SaladFork and his friends.

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Apple Pins Its Hopes on Gaming

By Jeremy Parish
Back when I was in college -- way back in early 1997, I'm afraid -- I wrote a well-reasoned letter to the online arm of Ultra Game Players magazine in defense of Nintendo, whose star was starting to take on a distinct tinge of tarnish among the nascent online hardcore gaming fanbase. The N64's strong launch had deteriorated into the likes of Yoshi's Story, with little but Star Fox 64 and the far-distant Ocarina of Time to look forward to for the foreseeable future. But that's okay, I argued; Nintendo has always employed the same model as Apple Computer, whose Macintosh suffered from the same problems as the N64 -- an expensive proprietary format, relatively sparse releases, an insular corporate culture -- but also offered the same ultimate benefit: powerful hardware and quality software.

"Yeah, but Apple sucks," was the website's thoughtful response. Fortunately, I can take some pleasure in knowing that history has lent weight to my comparison, with Nintendo seemingly aping Apple at every turn since then. Apple makes colorful computers and a laptop in translucent blue or orange with white accents; Nintendo unveils N64s in the same color, along with its upcoming Game Boy Advance hardware in translucent blue or orange with white accents. Apple makes a compact, cube-shaped computer that founders in the marketplace; Nintendo follows with a compact, cube-shaped console that founders in the marketplace. Nintendo's current systems, the DS and Wii, want so badly to be Mac hardware it's not even funny. Where Apple leads, Nintendo seems to follow in lockstep.

But for the first time, perhaps Apple would do well to learn from its imitator. They've suddenly decided that video gaming is the future -- a distinct change of pace for a company whose boss deliberately pushed the Macintosh platform away from gaming for fear that the ability to have fun on Macs would lend credence to the view that the system was a toy next to its stodgy, command-line-driven competition. Aside from the occasional bit of MacWorld keynote lip-service -- look, it's John Carmack! And he's playing Quake III on an iMac! -- Apple's relationship with gaming has largely been one of disinterest, with a few stalwarts like Blizzard, Freeverse, Ambrosia, Pangaea, and Spiderweb keeping the home fires burning for those few Mac gamers who haven't given up and installed Boot Camp.

But now Apple has a powerful portable computing device running Mac OS X in the form of the iPhone, along with a homegrown content delivery service in the iTunes Store. Not surprisingly, someone added two and two and came up with the realization that gaming should be Apple's next big initiative. It makes sense; the iPhone is proving to be a runaway success even as iPod sales reach the inevitable point of saturation, and power players in both the movie and music industries are doing their best to keep Apple from muscling any further onto their turf. Games, on the other hand, are wide-open territory, and the iPhone is a tempting platform for developers; the App Store averages 2 million downloads a day, and there are dozens of Cinderella stories of amateur programmers like Trism's Steve Detemer making a fortune on a single homebrew creation. Unsurprisingly, when Apple released the revised iPod Touch a few months ago -- effectively an iPhone minus the phone -- they called it "the funnest iPod ever" and made a lot of noise about how many games are available for the platform.

Still, while gaming is a more open medium than the corporate-controlled recording and film industries, the company has its work cut out for it. Sony and especially Nintendo dominate portable gaming. Apple is quick to point out that the iPhone is considerably more powerful than Nintendo's DS, but power alone wasn't enough to give PSP the victory over DS that most observers predicted would be a foregone conclusion. Ultimately, the contest comes down to software -- and while iPhone already offers far more titles than either of its direct competitors, quality is a serious issue. Apple has ultimate say over whether or not a given app makes its way onto the App Store, but to date the company seems to have used this ability sparingly (mainly to prevent copyright infringement); understandable, since the iPhone's core audience consists largely of tech-savvy computer users who cry foul at the first hint of any sort of interference with the free market. Still, the console gaming market is very different from PC gaming, with manufacturers serving as licensors with full control over their proprietary platforms. The iPhone seems to straddle these two very different schools of commerce, with elements of both console and PC philosophies guiding it.

Apple could almost be seen as positioning its iPhone as the PC equivalent to the DS and PSP consoles. At the moment, though, the App Store seems to embody as many of each market's flaws as it does their strengths. With roughly 1,500 games already available through the App Store, iPhone games suffer the same signal-to-noise ratio as shareware PC games. Unfortunately, the only portal to the games is the App Store, which is ill-suited for the job; it was designed to sell songs grouped by bands and divided out by albums, not to organize the free-for-all chaos of thousands of independent publishers each with a single title under their belts.

Even more significantly, Apple's games have yet to make a strong impression on the core gaming market. Ironically, it was Nintendo that proved there's more to the medium than the action fare that's dominated since its inception, but the audience for those games still account for billions of dollars of annual sales. Apple's going to need to win their hearts and minds in order to make a dent in the competition. Unfortunately, it's tough to come by "hardcore" iPhone games, and those currently available are less than perfect. Sega's Super Monkey Ball gets trotted out as an example of success every time iPhone gaming comes up in conversation, but despite its impressive sales it's netted only mediocre reviews. And oddities like Sega CD RPG Vay are ergonomic disasters: games designed for traditional controls with touchscreen input shoehorned in quite painfully.

This is where Apple looks to Nintendo, or should: the iPhone today is right where the DS was the end of 2004. The DS launched with a decent slate of games, but none that are worth remembering four years later. Even the heavily hyped Super Mario 64 DS is better forgotten: a showcase for N64's analog controller forced to rely on either a D-pad or an awkward virtual analog stick that few other developers have bothered to imitate. It wasn't until the second generation of DS games arrived in 2005 that people started to realize that there was more to the system than badly ported titles from other system and fumbling, gimmicky attempts at utilizing the hardware's unique features. Kirby's Canvas Curse is widely regarded as the system's turning point: a creative spin on the classic platformer genre that could only have worked on DS -- and it was incredibly fun too boot. iPhone needs its second generation to help it break out of the rut of casual puzzlers that it's currently mired in.

Fortunately, that turning point may be nearby. Apple recently demoed few new and upcoming games, including a pair of sharp-looking racers: Electronic Arts' Need for Speed Undercover and Gameloft's Ferrari GT Evolution, each slated for release within the coming month and priced at $9.99. Both look solid, but the most exciting game previewed was a new title from a new developer: ngmoco's Rolando (pictured above) -- the title that could well be iPhone's Canvas Curse.

Rolando owes an obvious debt Sony's Loco Roco: its clean vector art depicts the adventures of tiny, charming creatures who move about primarily through gravity. But in many ways, it seems to be the game that Loco Roco should have been. The motion control is entirely accelerometer-based, and levels are smaller and more puzzle-like. Players have more granular control over their subjects; only actively selected creatures will move as the iPhone is tilted, and it's possible to drag-click to activate multiple creatures in the style of a PC RTS. Rolando actually uses the full bag of iPhone tricks -- players can pan the camera through a level by swiping with two fingers, while it's possible to manipulate specific parts of the environment with a single touch. It looks in every way like the sort of game that would be a satisfying $30 PSP title; as a ten dollar download, it should be a no brainer.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that ngmoco is at the vanguard of a new wave of iPhone games; the company was founded by Neil Young, who left EA to capitalize on the opportunity he saw in iPhone gaming. ngmoco's approach is interesting, and arguably demonstrates the real strength of iPhone development: rather than build games internally, the company seeks out promising amateur projects and offers their creators the guidance and support to push their work to the next level. Young is focusing on a two-pronged approach, producing a single "premium" full-price app and several smaller free or inexpensive titles each month. These range from the self-consciously ridiculous Dr. Awesome, Microsurgeon M.D. (a cross between Qix and Trauma Center) and the stylish Dropship (a take on PC classic Thrust reworked with slick 3D vector graphics).

Apple is new to the portable games, but the company has proven remarkably adept at taking the lead in new markets. The iPhone gaming market has a long way to go, and the content delivery system needs a major overhaul, but if anyone can overcome the outsider stigma that affects mobile gaming in the U.S., it's Apple. More and more major developers are signing aboard -- most recently Square Enix -- and 1UP will be covering Apple's efforts in greater detail beginning next month with the launch of our iPhone news and review blog.

Original here