Sunday, April 18, 2010

Apple unveils 'faster' MacBook Pros

Apple would like you, if just for a moment, to forget about the iPad.
The company on Tuesday rolled out its newest MacBook Pro laptops, promising faster processors and longer battery life while reminding folks that machines can specialize in areas the much-hyped slate computer doesn't.
The update to Apple's most popular computer line includes new 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch models.
The upgrades had been widely anticipated, coming more than 300 days since the line was last refreshed.
Apple tends to update more frequently than that. And many Mac enthusiasts had been clamoring for Intel's new Core i5 and i7 processors, which the 15- and 17-inch models include.

Apple says the 13-inch has a "groundbreaking" built-in battery that can go 10 hours without recharging and a graphics processor they say is 80 percent faster than the current model's.
The 15- and 17-inch Pros are up to 50 percent faster than current models, Apple says.
"The new MacBook Pro is as advanced on the inside as it is stunning on the outside," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide marketing, said in a written statement. "With faster processors, amazing graphics and up to three more hours of battery life, the new MacBook Pro delivers both performance and efficiency."

All three are now available through the online Apple Store -- which was down for a few hours Tuesday morning, telegraphing the widely anticipated update -- and at authorized Apple dealers.
Prices are as follows:
• 13-inch, 2.4 GHz: $1,199
• 13-inch, 2.66 GHz: $1,499
• 15-inch, 2.4 GHz: $1,799
• 15-inch, 2.53 GHz: $1,999
• 15-inch, 2.66 GHz: $2,199
• 17-inch, 2.53 GHz: $2,299
There are built-to-order options on all of the notebooks, for an additional cost, of course.

NASA unveils sweeping new programs

One week before President Obama is scheduled to attend a major "space summit" in Florida, NASA unveiled sweeping new programs Thursday designed to implement the administration's proposed shift to commercial manned rockets and development of new technologies to enable eventual deep space exploration.
The president's fiscal 2011 budget request, which would cancel the Bush administration's Constellation moon program, does not specify a long-range target for manned exploration or a timetable for moving beyond low-Earth orbit, factors that have generated widespread criticism.

But NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former shuttle commander, defended the agency's new direction Thursday, saying the president's controversial "vision" is, unlike past programs, affordable and sustainable.
"This budget provides an increase to NASA at a time when funding is scarce," he said. "It will enable us to accomplish inspiring exploration, science and R and D, the kinds of things the agency has been known for throughout its history."

While deep space targets are not specified, the budget "enables NASA to set its sights on destinations beyond Earth orbit and develop the technologies that will be required to get us there, both with humans and robots," Bolden said.

"We're talking about technologies that the field has long wished we had but for which we did not have the resources," he said. "These are things that don't exist today but we'll make real in the coming years. This budget enables us to plan for a real future in exploration with capabilities that will make amazing things not only possible, but affordable and sustainable."
But even with increased funding, the looming retirement of the space shuttle and the proposed cancellation of Constellation will mean nearly 10,000 lost jobs at the Kennedy Space Center alone and thousands more at other NASA centers and communities.
"A very serious and real concern for everyone is the jobs," Bolden agreed. "But this is what we call progress, Unfortunately, If you look at every area of technology in this country, as you advance there are fewer and fewer manual-type jobs. That's what happens when you advance technology.

"We're doing everything within our power ... to help everybody understand we're expanding the amount of programs we have so that we can try to put people to work who are interested in being a part of the space program. Are we going to be able to employ everybody that used to work in shuttle? No, we're not. But that was never a vision."
Constellation cancellation
In the wake of the 2003 Columbia disaster, President Bush decided to complete the space station and retire the shuttle by 2010. At the same time, he directed NASA to begin development of new rockets, capsules and landers to carry astronauts back to the moon by the early 2020s. NASA came up with the Constellation program to implement those directives, spending some $9 billion over the past five years.

During the presidential campaign, Obama expressed support for Constellation but after the election, he set up a panel of outside experts to review NASA's plans and how much they might ultimately cost.
The panel concluded NASA could not afford to implement Constellation, or any other reasonable exploration program, without an additional $3 billion or so per year, primarily to make up for earlier budget reductions.
The group favored a shift to commercial launch services to carry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit while NASA focused on development of a new heavy-lift rocket system that would enable eventual flights to the moon, nearby asteroids, or even the moons of Mars.

The Obama administration agreed with the idea of commercial launch services, but it did not specify any long-range destinations or timetables, focusing instead on development of enabling technologies.
Obama funding request
The administration's $19 billion fiscal 2011 budget request for NASA would pump an additional $6 billion into the agency's budget over the next five years to kick start development of a new commercial manned spaceflight capability.
During a teleconference Thursday, Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver unveiled how some of that money will be spent, assuming Congressional approval, and which NASA centers would be responsible for implementing the new programs.
At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the International Space Station program is managed and where astronauts are trained, a flagship technology demonstration program office would be established, receiving $424 million in fiscal 2011 and $6 billion over the next five years.

The program would be responsible for flight tests of new technologies such as autonomous rendezvous and docking, in-orbit refueling, and inflatable habitat modules. JSC also will continue to manage the space station program and work with the Kennedy Space Center on development of commercial manned spacecraft.
Asked if Johnson will give up its role in astronaut training and mission design as the agency shifts its focus to private-sector launch services, Bolden said he envisions a multifaceted approach.
"At NASA, we provided astronauts for exploration," he said. "A lot of that exploration and experimentation today and in the future will be done on the International Space Station. So what we are doing is relying on commercial capability to get us access to low Earth orbit, to get us to the International Space Station.

"But to get to places like the moon and Mars and other beyond LEO places, that, we feel, is the responsibility of your government. Because that's risky, that's an investment that we can't really count on a commercial entity taking until we've demonstrated the ability to do that and do it safely."
At Kennedy, the commercial crew development program office would manage $500 million in fiscal 2011 and $5.8 billion over the next five years to encourage development of a new private-sector launch industry. The deputy manager of the flagship technology demonstrations program would be based at Kennedy and a new program office will manage $1.9 billion over five years to upgrade and modernize the launch infrastructure.

At the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., $3.1 billion would be spent over the next five years for heavy lift propulsion research and technology development to come up with designs for new rockets that can lift the large payloads needed for deep space exploration.
While the new plan for NASA does not specify a long-range target for exploration, Bolden said Mars is the ultimate objective. But getting there, he said, will require the new technologies that NASA's new approach is designed to develop.

Kids on YouTube: How much is too much?

A 10-minute YouTube video called "The Yippity Yo Cooking Show" falls somewhere to the left of "Saturday Night Live" at its most surreal: The host, "Zaylee Jean," alternates between extreme seriousness and manic outbursts, with diction so slurred that it's subtitled (in the cartoonish Comic Sans font).

Among other antics, she smears the mix for a batch of chocolate chip cookies all over her face, nibbles ingredients off the counter, and routinely pauses to scream something like "I LOVE COOKIES!" at the top of her lungs.
A key point: Zaylee Jean is 3 years old. The plucky toddler in a flowered sundress and wispy blond ponytail has become YouTube's most unlikely new hit, with a steady cult following of offbeat hipsters fast propelling it to the milestone of 100,000 views.
Like so many videos of cherubic youngsters before her, the clip can prompt a dual reaction: on one hand, she's delightful; on the other, in a few years when Zaylee enters the social Hades known as "middle school," the video will likely still be there.

"We definitely wouldn't have a problem taking it down in two seconds," said Zaylee's 30-something dad, who goes by Zane -- he prefers not to make the family name public -- in an interview with CNET. "We did this for fun and love. It's not about fame and fortune."

But videos like "Yippity Yo" don't come without a hefty dose of criticism and controversy. When online videos of a kid become unexpected viral sensations, the parents are subject to perceptions, warranted or otherwise, that they're engaging in a kind of Digital Age "stage parenting" in which kids are being pushed into the spotlight, child-actor style.
"My daughter and I just did this on a whim," said Zane. "On a Saturday, we bought some chocolate chips and I found an old one-hour unused video tape and pulled out the video camera. She'd wanted to do this for so long."
Zane says that Zaylee's safety was his top priority throughout the creation of the video, which he originally intended to just share with family and close friends, and that he was more or less flabbergasted when it became a cult hit on YouTube. "We had an e-mail from a (television) producer," he told CNET.

"I'm just skeptical. We're in Minnesota; it's not like we're stage parents out to exploit our kid on YouTube ... I've seen comments saying my wife and I should be arrested for child endangerment. I think we're kind people."

Blogs about parenting, many of them deeply personal, have become a huge sensation with readers and advertisers alike. Many of their authors have also become known for espousing strong opinions about how to raise kids. And with that popularity comes the invariable question of how much,

if at all, children should be exposed in the process -- an issue of both safety and good taste.
Some parenting bloggers don't shy away from bringing their kids into their blogging lives: Ree Drummond, author of the wildly successful "Confessions of a Pioneer Woman" blog and spin-off cookbook, uses frequent, beautifully crafted photographs to accompany stories about her four children (she affectionately calls them her "punks") and their life on a ranch in Oklahoma.
On the other hand, Catherine Sanderson, who turned her expat-themed blog Petite Anglaise into a memoir and a novel, referred to her young daughter by the codename of "Tadpole" and did not post pictures.

Christine Koh, editor of, does not post photos that reveal her daughter's face and doesn't post pictures of her husband either. But she says it's usually an issue of personal preference rather than right and wrong.

n a photograph from several decades ago, the author of this blog post poses in a costume that now makes her eternally glad that YouTube didn't exist in the '80s.
"I think I might have a higher filter than some people," Koh told CNET. "I feel like there are two things that help guide what I post, and one thing is, if it were me, if I were my daughter looking at this 10 years from now or if I were in her position as an adult, what would I feel reading about this stuff?...(Second), if I get a real twinge that something feels wrong about posting on a particular topic, I don't do it. Some things I've even consulted with my husband about because they're a bit sensitive."
Liz Gumbinner, the woman behind Cool Mom Picks and Mom 101, told CNET that it's usually tough to make judgment calls when it comes to bloggers talking about their kids or parents putting family videos online.

"I don't think it's easy to say what single line can be drawn, because I think every kid is different," Gumbinner, who has two daughters aged three and five, told CNET.
"When I put my children on my blog, I'm always asking them, 'Are you OK with this? Do you like this? Are you happy with this?' But also as a parent I have to look out for their safety, and their well-being, and the greater impact in their social life to come."
It's especially complicated because many of the most popular YouTube videos of kids were not made by parenting bloggers who have been carefully crafting their family story over time, but by parents like Zane who honestly didn't think that anyone would find them on a site where 24 hours of video is uploaded every minute.

This was indeed the case for the kid who's quite likely the biggest YouTube star under the age of 10: little David DeVore, who at the age of seven was videotaped sitting in the back seat of his parents' car, freaking out on the aftereffects of knockout drugs given to him during dental surgery earlier that day.
"David After Dentist" now has more than 57 million views on YouTube, and DeVore's father, also named David, has built a Web site in which he sells T-shirts and chronicles media hits. He's now raised more than $6,000 for charity and is hoping to also raise eventual college tuition for David, who is now nine years old.

DeVore (the dad) said he taped the video of his son a year before it ever hit YouTube and that he'd hoped to use it to show David that the dentist's office is nothing to be scared of.
"It was a pretty big deal for him, getting surgery and everything," DeVore told CNET. "I'd just gotten a Flip video camera and I wanted to show David afterward that it hadn't been so bad after all...I just didn't know how funny it was going to be."
Over the following months, DeVore said he asked his son what he would think about putting the video on YouTube. A typically outgoing kid, David concurred. "The fact that I even taped it at all was really because of David's personality," DeVore said. "If he were a sensitive child or was embarrassed easily or didn't see the humor in things, I wouldn't have taped it from the beginning."
Reactions to "David After Dentist" ranged from people who say it's the video they watch whenever they need a pick-me-up on a stressful day to critics who say it's in poor taste.

Among those critics is Koh, who said that "David After Dentist" left her "a little bit horrified." As she told CNET, "That dentist video really tweaked a nerve because that's something where the child is in a vulnerable position...At one point he starts screaming. I had to hop off because I could not take it anymore."
Critics may be a little reassured by DeVore's assertion that David himself thinks the video is hilarious and that the kid is happy to talk about it, too. "He wants to make a video responding to it, saying that his parents are good parents and that we didn't do anything wrong," DeVore explained.

David's schoolmates know him as the kid from the video, but DeVore said they don't particularly care. Their attention spans have long since moved on.
Regardless, DeVore says that the reaction to "David After Dentist" made him think about child fame in a new way.
"After the video, our experience probably caused me to pause for a few extra minutes. Like with the Falcon Heene thing," he said, referring to the infamous "Balloon Boy" incident in which a 6-year-old's parents, gunning for a reality-show deal, claimed that the child had flown away in a homemade hot-air balloon.

"It sure looked like a prank to me, but people were quick to judge us, so I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt." He paused and chuckled. "That ran out pretty quick."
'Scarface' goes to grade school
More recently, the Web was captivated by a YouTube video that depicted elementary school students performing the "Say hello to my little friend" machine gun scene from "Scarface," except with a massive pile of popcorn on the table instead of a mount of cocaine, and the substitution of "fudging" for that other word that begins with an F.
It's pulled in well over 3 million views. As it turns out, it wasn't actually a full-fledged school production of "Scarface" but an orchestrated parody by a music video director who had hired child actors.

DeVore said that this was another instance where he became one of the critics. "I respect the creativity and how the guy went about it and all that and the fact that these were child actors maybe toned it down a bit for me, but it still kind of makes me cringe a little bit," he said.
Zaylee Jean's father brought up the "Scarface" video, too, saying, "I was a bit shocked."
But when speaking about their respective kids' YouTube fame, Zane and DeVore both bring up a strong point: these critics don't know them personally and yet are more or less telling them how to raise their kids. And that can be even worse than the claims that the naysayers make.
"It should be discussed," DeVore said. "We don't shy away from the controversy, we just look at it as an opportunity to explain it. We're a bit biased and admittedly think ours is kind of unique. I think that if people just sit down and talk to us, they'll see that David's handling it well and that's usually the reaction that we get."

"You just have to let it roll off your back," Zane said. "The safety of the kid, I think that's the number one thing."
Mom blogger Gumbinner says that the debate over how much of a kid's life to share online is something that's changing now that social media has made its full transition from early-adopter and youth craze to an element of mainstream family life.
"We're going to have to learn, as parents, how to talk about the Internet and anonymity very early, because that's part of life and it goes well beyond putting your kid on YouTube," Gumbinner said.
"This is one piece of the story of how we're going to have to nurture and protect our kids going forward in a world of technology."

Twitter grows up: Take a peek inside

What a week for Twitter.

The mircroblogging firm made nearly a dozen announcements this week, marking a huge shift in Twitter's business strategy, starting with the fact that it now actually has a business strategy.

At its developer conference, codenamed Chirp, the company unveiled promoted tweets, new official mobile apps, an enhanced geo-tagging feature, a proprietary link-shortening function, live search on Bing and the sale of its archives.

"Twitter's been under a lot of pressure to be a more transparent business," said Augie Ray, senior social-networking analyst at Forrester Research. "Now the company has come to a point in its maturity where it's starting to operate much more as a business and less as a startup."

The new moves aren't without critics. Some customers have found the promoted tweets to be intrusive. Third-party app developers are worried that Twitter is trying to put them out of business. And location-based apps like Foursquare and Gowalla can't be too pleased that Twitter is planning to launch a similar service.

But Twitter has also been scrutinized for taking too long to unveil a roadmap. Developers weren't sure where to invest their efforts, and analysts grew frustrated wondering when the company was going to grow up.

It appears that time has come.

Promoted tweets: By far the most significant announcement. When users search with select keywords, a tweet from a company that bought those keywords will appear at the top of the feed. Companies that currently feature ads on the site include Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500), Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) and Sony Pictures.

Though some Twitter users predictably reacted negatively to the announcement, Ray said most of the early buzz from consumers was fairly supportive.   

Though the current model is still in the experimental phase, the company is hoping to succeed by making the promotional advertising more closely reflect individual users' interests.

Ensuring Twitter remains consumer-driven and not overly corporate is key to its survival, said Bob Pearson, president of the Social Media Business Council.

"The reason Twitter is successful is because it has allowed customers to find what's relevant to them," said Pearson. "If Twitter starts deciding for people what's important, that's not going to work."

Mobile apps: Twitter recently unveiled an official BlackBerry app, and bought the most popular Twitter app for Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPhone, called Tweetie. The company also plans to soon release an official Android app.

Twitter had previously relied on third-party developers to allow mobile users to access their Twitter accounts on their phones. Apps like Twidroid, Tweetie and UberTwitter were some of the most popular, but there were dozens of others.

Twitter nabs top app maker
It comes as little surprise that having no official mobile app was a barrier to new customers. When people searched for a Twitter app, many were confused about which one to use.

While an official Twitter app hasn't made third-party developers too happy, Twitter made it clear that those developers are still hugely important.

"It's not a coup against developers," said Ray. "It's absolutely clear that Twitter is very committed to improving its platform for the development community."

Geo-tagging: Another big announcement was the unveiling of a "Places" function that would better allow users to see where tweets were coming from.

Twitter will keep a database of restaurants, bars, parks, stations and other public arenas. Developers use that data to create tools like check-in, similar to other location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Though some believe this poses a direct challenge to some of the more entrenched location-based services, Twitter argues that the new functionality is more of a complementary service.

It's more likely that Twitter would use the information to provide more relevant tweets about a specific area or place than hand out virtual points, badges or rewards like Foursquare's check-in.

Link-shortening: Since Twitter only allows users to post 140-character messages, URLs can take up a large chunk of the space for tweets.

Services like have become popular ways to shorten links to post in tweets. But using those services is cumbersome because users have to go outside Twitter's world to create those links.

Lawbreakers foiled by Facebook
Like with geo-tagging and mobile apps, the announcement made some developers nervous about the viability of their link-shortening services. But the barriers to creating link-shortening were so small (just register a two-character ending) that the business model of those services was questionable anyhow.

Archives: Twitter sold the rights to its archives to the Library of Congress, making them searchable on Google (GOOG, Fortune 500).

All public tweets, dating back to the very first one on March 21, 2006, are now hosted in the government's Library of Congress.

Users can access the archive by selecting the "Updates" option on Google's search page. The new feature adds a timeline at the top of the results page that shows the relative volume of tweets about that topic.

Live search: Lastly, live Twitter feeds began appearing in Bing search results pages this week. Twitter feeds have already been showing up in Google's search results for awhile, which served as the first source of revenue for the young company

Twitter users not so social after all

Twitter may be a fast-growing social network, but most of its 50 million accounts merely follow other users rather than posting their own messages.

In fact, a whopping 73% of Twitter accounts have tweeted fewer than 10 times according to a new report from Barracuda Networks, a Web security company.

It seems that Twitter is becoming more of news feed than a social network, said Paul Judge, author of the report and chief research officer at Barracuda. And that raises questions about its growth potential, as well as how the Internet phenomenon will make money.

As of December 2009, only 21% of Twitter account holders were what Barracuda defines as "true users," meaning someone who has at least 10 followers, follows at least 10 people and has tweeted at least 10 times.

That indicates that most Twitter users "came online to follow their favorite celebrities, not to interact with their buddies the way they would on Facebook or MySpace," said Judge.

The follow-only trend exploded when celebrities helped push the microblogging site into the mainstream during a six-month period that Barracuda calls Twitter's "red carpet era."

From November 2008 to April 2009, several celebrities, including Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey and John Mayer, joined Twitter. And the site grew 21.2% in the month of April 2009 alone.

"The most famous people have already joined Twitter, so I don't think they'll see another growth spurt like that," Judge said.

So the question now, said Judge, is whether Twitter can get more of these followers to start tweeting themselves.

"The bottom line is, most of these people are getting online because Ashton asked them to," Judge said. "If those people do nothing after that, [Twitter's] growth can't hope to continue."

Facebook plans to add 'place' feature

Facebook on Friday proposed creating a way for people to add their locations to Facebook pages but released almost no details about how the feature will work.

The location-based feature, hinted at in a post on Facebook's blog, would give the social network's 400 million-plus members a function that has been popularized on newer "location-based" Web sites like Foursquare and Gowalla.
Those two sites feature mobile apps that are set up like games, encouraging smartphone- or laptop-wielding users to "check in" at restaurants, businesses and public locations. When a person checks in to a certain spot, his or her friends are alerted about their whereabouts.

Posting locations in addition to status messages and Web links has become a major theme of online social networking this year.
In a blog post on Friday, Michael Richter, Facebook's deputy general counsel, provided few details about how the places feature would work but did confirm that Facebook is working on features that use people's locations.
He writes that the addition is "more exciting" than a location feature the company had been planning.
"The last time we updated the Privacy Policy, we included language describing a location feature we might build in the future. At that point, we thought the primary use would be to 'add a location to something you post.' Now, we've got some different ideas that we think are even more exciting," Richter wrote.

"So, we've removed the old language and, instead added the concept of a 'place' that could refer to a Page, such as one for a local restaurant. As we finalize the product, we look forward to providing more details, including new privacy controls," the post says.
This month, The New York Times cited unnamed sources saying Facebook would unveil its location-based feature at its annual f8 conference for Facebook application developers, which begins April 21 in San Francisco, California.
Friday's Facebook post also says that the massive social networking site will make changes "sometime soon" to the policies that govern how it works.

Such alterations typically draw raucous debate, and often backlash, from the Facebook community, but the site says it is announcing the changes for review before they go into effect so users will have time to read them and post comments.
The idea of a "place" is mentioned at least twice in the proposed policy.

"Once you register you can provide other information about yourself by connecting with, for example, your current city, hometown, family, relationships, networks, activities, interests, and places," the policy says.
In a section about information the site collects about you from other users, the policy says: "We may collect information about you from other Facebook users, such as when a friend tags you in a photo, video, or place, provides friend details, or indicates a relationship with you."

The addition of "place" into Facebook lingo is an important change, Marshall Kirkpatrick writes on the blog ReadWriteWeb.
"The difference between location and Place is a significant one. Substantial resources are dedicated by location-aware social networks to determine what 'place' your location refers to," he writes.

"That might mean neighborhood, it might mean business name and it might mean recognizing when you are posting from home so that location can be selectively hidden if you so choose."

On the tech blog VentureBeat, Kim-Mai Cutler writes that the "place" feature could make Facebook pages for businesses and television shows more interesting.

"This could make Fan Pages for restaurants a lot richer and maybe even competitive to Google's Place Pages or Yelp's listings," she writes.

"If you could tag an update or post with a venue, you probably attach comments, mini-reviews and photos to the Fan Page."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Pirate Bay: Users can delete accounts ahead of sale

IDG News Service - The operators of The Pirate Bay will allow users to delete their accounts on the torrent-tracking site, a feature many users have requested since a deal to sell the site was announced Tuesday.
Swedish Internet cafe operator Global Gaming Factory X (GGF) announced on Tuesday that it plans to buy The Pirate Bay for $7.8 million, prompting negative reactions from many of the site's users.
"Many people have asked about having their account removed, and we will not force anyone to stay on," The Pirate Bay's operators wrote in a posting to the site's blog on Tuesday.
The operators planned to build a user deletion interface later Tuesday, according to the posting.
Users should not worry about their personal data falling into the wrong hands, they said.
"We have no logs of anything, no personal data will be transferred in the eventual sale (since no personal data is kept). So no need to be worried for safety," they wrote.

While the question of logs is important in some European countries, Sweden has yet to adopt into national law a European directive requiring telecommunications and Internet companies to retain data about their customers' online activities for law enforcement purposes.
Comments on the deal were not confined to requests for the account deletion feature. Other users called the site operators sellouts and said the deal will kill The Pirate Bay.
The operators wrote, however, that The Pirate Bay couldn't afford to develop its services further without outside help.
"We cannot finance the growth of the site anymore," they wrote, adding that the deal with GGF was the only available option.
Many users are still upset over that deal, but there also more understanding comments to the blog posting. "You will always have my support!" a user identified as blake324 wrote. And someone known as MassExodus said, "Thank you The Pirate Bay for all you've provided over the years -- we'll see how it pans out over the next few months."