The intersection of media and technology just got better funded.
Today the Columbia Journalism School and the Stanford School of Engineering announced a joint $30 million gift from longtime Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.
The idea is to get the best media minds on the East Coast to start working with the best technology minds on the West Coast and get innovating!
"David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content," said Helen Gurley Brown in a statement. "Great content needs usable technology….It's time for two great institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge."
If you are thinking this bridge might be a bit arbitrary, it may help to know that Helen Gurley Brown's late husband graduated from Stanford University and the Columbia School of Journalism.
Each school will receive $12 million for "Institute activities"–enough to endow a professorship holder and to support graduate and post-graduate fellowships at both schools. Columbia will receive an additional $6 million for construction of a building that will feature a high-tech newsroom.
"New York City as the major center for the television, music, print media and advertising, is profoundly affected by rapidly evolving digital technology," said Stanford engineering professor Bernd Girod, who will be the institute's founding director, in a statement. "The Brown Institute will bring together creative innovators skilled in production and delivery of news and entertainment with the entrepreneurial researchers at Stanford working in multimedia technology."
Photo: David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times.
Two Canadian high school students have successfully launched a Lego man almost 80,000 feet above sea level–high enough to capture video of the plastic toy hovering above the curvature of the Earth.
Now the results of their experiment have gone viral, racking up more than 600,000 views on YouTube in just two daysand inspiring the young engineers to make their small astronaut his own Facebook page–Lego Man in Space.
The Toronto Starreports that the two teens, Matthew Ho and Asad Muhammed, were inspired to do the project about a year and a half ago when Ho saw a YouTube video of MIT students who sent a balloon to near space. Ho wanted to see if he could do it too.
The friends spent four and a half months working on the project, mostly on Saturdays. In a video interview with the Star, they said the hardest part was making the parachute, which they decided to hand-sew, even though neither of them had any sewing experience.
They also constructed a lightweight Styrofoam box to carry three point-and-shoot cameras, a wide-angle video camera and a cellphone with a downloadable GPS app. They purchased a professional weather balloon for $85 online. The helium that would lift it up came from a party supply store. For launch, they put two mitten warmers in the Styrofoam box to keep the cameras working at that altitude. The whole project cost them about $400.
After the balloon was constructed, the two waited until weather conditions would ensure that the Lego man would land in Canada and not somewhere in the U.S. because they didn't want to take their chances with U.S. Homeland Security, the Star reports.
Ho and Muhammed estimate that it took their balloon craft one hour and five minutes to climb 80,000 feet before it finally popped. The descent took a little more than 30 minutes.
Besides online notoriety, the two also received a congratulatory note from Lego.
A few weeks ago the Lemelson-MIT Program put a similar question to 1,000 young adults ages 16 to 25, and stodgy old purists can breathe a sigh of relief. Thomas Edison trumped everyone.
"Though part of the 'Apple Generation,' many young Americans surprisingly chose Thomas Edison (52%), as the greatest innovator of all time, demonstrating that education around the history of invention exists in today's curriculum," the organization wrote in a statement on its annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.
Still, nearly a quarter of respondents identified Steve Jobs as their first pick for greatest innovator, beating that old stalwart Alexander Graham Bell, who received just 10% of the votes.
Mark Zuckerberg made the list, although only 3% of respondents identified the Facebook founder as the world's greatest innovator. He tied with Amelia Earhart.
Bill Gates, however, was notably missing.
Image credit: From the Lemelson-MIT Program.
Artist Scott Garner's "Still Life" has all the trappings of a traditional still life painting. The lighting is intriguing, the fruit artfully arranged, a knife resting beneath a blue patterned vase adds a slight menacing edge to the image.
But this still life is not a painting, nor is it still. As the artist writes on his website, it's an "interactive gallery piece that takes traditional still life painting into the fourth dimension with a motion-sensitive frame on a rotating mount."
To put that into plain English: If you tilt this still life to the right or to the left, the vase tips, the fruit rolls, and the knife slides around. It will all settle down eventually, but move the frame again and the upheaval within the picture begins anew.
We've seen this technology in iPad applications–Atomic Antelope's Alice in Wonderland app comes to mind, as does Moonbot's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, but still, seeing the technology applied to an old school style of art is pretty cool.
For those of you who want more on the tech behind the art, Garner is kind enough to describe how he put the piece together.
"On the hardware side is a custom-framed television connected to a rotating mount from Ergomart, " he writes on his website. "Attached to the back of the television is a spatial sensor from Phidgets, makers of fine USB sensors. On the software side is a simple C application to communicate with the sensor and feed the data to a Unity 3D scene. The scene itself consists of a camera tied to the sensor data with all lights and objects parented to it so they rotate in unison."
Could Caravaggio have done that?
Image: Scott Garner's Still Life. Credit: Courtesy of Scott Garner
Some media outlets have reported that the image is the largest image ever made of our planet, but Norman Kuring, the NASA oceanographer who actually made the image, told The Times that simply is not true.
"I'm surprised that it's gone viral," he said. "I think what's happening in the general public is seeing a larger image than they are used to seeing, but there have been higher sensing instruments around for a number of years."
Kuring explained that this particular image was made using data collected by the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite, which is on a satellite flying 512 miles above the Earth. VIIRS is not really a camera — rather it has a scanning telescope that measures the difference between the amount of light coming down to the surface of Earth from the sun as compared to the amount of light that is reflected back to the telescope. Kuring made the image above by running code that translates that data into an image.
VIIRS only scans one swatch of Earth at a time, measuring about 1,900 miles across. Kuringer says you can think of it as if you were walking down the street with a broom and sweeping as you go. The images are then pieced together to make a whole.
The satellite it rides on — Suomi NPP, which was launched in October — has been placed in a sun-synchronous orbit so that the satellite is over the equator at the same local ground time in each orbit. This is relevant because it explains why each slice of image is lit the same way even though the entire image of the Earth was taken over a period of several hours.
The data that VIIRS collects is still in the process of being calibrated, but eventually scientists will be able to use it to measure ocean temperatures, tell us the location of fires, and track cloud formations.
As for the above image, Kuringer said he made it as a favor to a NASA scientist who wanted a visual to use in a talk to the American Meteorological Society earlier this week. Kuringer settled on an image taken on Jan. 4 because it was a fairly sunny day, and he decided to focus on North America because the society is based in America.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: A 'blue marble' image of Earth taken with the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's satellite Suomi NPP. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
On Sunday, a massive explosion on the sun known as a solar flare sent an ejection of some of the sun's plasma hurtling toward earth at the ungodly speed of 1,000 kilometers…per second!
No need to worry about being hit by flying sun plasma though — that will zoom right past Earth and race toward the edge of the solar system, according to Harlan Spence, principal investigator for the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) instrument onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
It's the ionizing-radiation that was also produced during the flare that hit Earth on Tuesday that is more of a cause for concern.
The radiation won't physically hurt those of us who are earthbound — the Earth's magnetic field and its atmosphere provides an effective shield against that. But astronauts who are working on the International Space Station could be at risk.
"These particles move so fast that they can penetrate the walls of spacecraft, damage electronics and even pass through a spacesuit into a person's body," said Spence. "And when it moves through you, it can do grave damage to your cells and your DNA. That's why astronauts will try to go to a well shielded environment when one of these events occur."
Furthermore, our beloved GPS systems may be affected. The GPS satellites themselves, which are located high above the Earth's atmosphere, are most likely not at risk, but the earth's electromagnetic field will get all stirred up by radiation coming off the sun, and the signals we receive have to pass through that stirred-up area.
"As conditions change, GPS systems may be degraded," said Spence.
Cellphones will generally not be affected, said Douglas Biesecker, a physicist with NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.
"It can be impacted if it's sunrise or sunset and the cell tower is in the same direction of the sun," he said. "A cellphone signal is very very weak, so anything that comes in at that frequency could overwhelm it. You would just drop the call, but you wouldn't realize why."
And if you are planning a flight that might pass near one of the Earth's poles — from New York to Japan for instance — your plane might be rerouted to keep the flash flood of charged plasma particles from interfering with navigation systems. Delta has already rerouted some of its flights. Others flew at lower altitudes to reduce the risk of radiation exposure.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: A solar flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA / Reuters
Imagine you are violist Lukáš Kmiť, performing a solo viola concert at an ornate synagogue in Presov, Slovakia–filling the room with your music, taking your audience on an emotional journey, when all of a sudden….
Doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo doo, doo deee doo, doo doo.
A Nokia cellphone starts ringing in the middle of the concert. Arghhhh!
What do you do? Stomp off the stage? Put down your instrument and wait for the offending sound to end? Berrate your audience for rudeness, inconsiderateness, and the ruining of a performance they presumably paid to attend?
Well, you could. Or you could simply choose to play the ringtone tune right back at the audience.
Vuhm vuhm vuhm vuhmmm, vuhm vuhm vuhm vuhmmm, vuhm vuhm vuhm vuhm vuhmmm.
Then kind of riff on it.
And that is exactly what Kmiť did. Video of the performance and the interruption is available on YouTube so you can see it for yourself. It's already logged 1.23 million views.
One note: Do not even think about trying this at the next conference you attend to see if the performer will have a similar sense of humor. If you watch the video carefully you can see that while Kmiť did intend the playing of the familiar cellphone tune as a joke, it was a joke born out of frustration and annoyance.
He's not smiling. He's angry.
Image: Screen grab from a YouTube video of Lukáš Kmiť playing the Nokia cellphone ring at a concert in Slovakia.
This week Apple announced a new textbook App called iBooks 2, as well as iBooks Author, a new book publishing app that allows normal people with little to no coding know-how to create impressive ebooks complete with photo galleries, video, 3-D images and other super cool graphic elements.
Nothing too controversial there, right? Wrong. By Thursday afternoon, tech bloggers began to complain about a clause in iBook Author's End User Licence Agreement that restricts how resulting ebooks can be sold, and by Friday the torrent of anger reached a fever pitch.
Here's the offending statement as it appears in the iBooks Author "About" box: "IMPORTANT NOTE: If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple."
In other words, Apple invites you to use its publishing software to do some really cool stuff that most of us could never dream of doing on our own, all for free. Just know that if you decide to sell what you've made, Apple will most likely get a cut of the profits.
Whether this is an unprecedented and gross abuse of power on Apple's part, or simply the company's way of making money off its new software, has been a hot topic of debate in the blogosphere.
In a scathing story headlined "iBooks Author: You Work For Apple Now," PCmag.com's Sascha Segan expressed his outrage over the clause in no uncertain terms.
"With iBooks Author, Apple just made a hideous play to kill authors' rights over their work," he writes. Adding later, "Apple owns the creative process of anyone who uses the tool. If you're looking to create an iBook, you've just given Apple total distribution control over your work. That's as good as partial ownership."
But Paul Carr, writing on the blog PandoDaily.com came to Apple's defense. Sort of. "Apple has released iBooks Author for free with one goal — to get more books into the iBooks store," he writes. "By taking a cut from all of the paid-for books produced in that way, they stand to make more than enough money to justify giving away the tools involved."
He adds that we are of course free to boycott Apple's new software if we don't like the terms of its agreement. "There are a hundred other ways to produce ebooks, and there are a half dozen other platforms on which to sell them. Pick one," he writes. "But we won’t. We’ll pick Apple, and we’ll like it. Because this is Apple, and that’s what we do."
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook on an iPad. Credit: Apple
Millions of Americans responded to the historic SOPA and PIPA blackouts implemented by thousands of websites both large and small Wednesday, but Americans weren't the only ones moved to action.
The whole world was watching, and the whole world chimed in.
On Wednesday, activist website Avaaz, which has a worldwide member base of more than 10 million, asked its members to sign a petition from "concerned global citizens" urging members of Congress to vote against both PIPA and the SOPA.
"The Internet is a crucial tool for people around the world to exchange ideas and work collectively to build the world we all want," the petition read. "We urge you to show true global leadership and do all you can to protect this basic pillar of our democracies worldwide."
On Thursday, Avaaz reports that 1.8 million from 141 countries around the world signed its petition. The petition did especially well in Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada and Mexico, but people in Jamaica, Morocco and Malaysia also lent their voices.
Here's a breakdown of some of the countries with the most signees.
South Africa: 17,953
Even those who have not been inspired to sign petitions are still paying close attention to the debate. The BBC reports that the debate over SOPA and PIPA in Congress and on the Web is being carefully observed in Britain by people who fall on both sides of the issue.
Some bloggers in China, where Internet censorship is the norm, had a more humorous take on the day of protest.
The Relevant Organs, an anonymous Twitter account (presumably) pretending to be the voice of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, quipped: "Don't understand the hoopla over Wikipedia blackout in the U.S. today. We blacked it out here years ago. Where are OUR hugs?"
– Deborah Netburn
Image: Screen shot of JoinDiaspora.com's homepage the day the Internet went on strike.
On Wednesday, some of the Internet's largest entities blacked out their websites — or their logos or some of their content — in a protest against the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills making their way through Congress.
If you're wondering whether all of this had an effect, the answer is yes. Big time.
Wikipedia, the largest Web player to block access to its pages for a full 24 hours, reports that a whopping 162 million people experienced the blackout on the online encyclopedia's landing page. In addition, 8 million U.S. readers took Wikipedia's suggestion and looked up their congressional reps from the site.
Google reported Wednesday that as of 1:30 PM PST, 4.5 million people had signed its petition asking lawmakers to reject the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate.
Twitter said 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets were sent in the first 16 hours of the day Wednesday. The top five terms were SOPA, Stop SOPA, PIPA, Tell Congress, #factswithoutwikipedia.
WordPress reports that at least 25,000 WordPress blogs had joined the SOPA and PIPA protest by blacking out their blogs entirely, and an additional 12,500 had posted a "Stop Censorship" ribbon.
“The Wikipedia blackout is over and the public has spoken,” Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement. “162 million of you saw our blackout page asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down the congressional switchboards, and you melted their servers. Your voice was loud and strong.”
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: A laptop in London shows Wikipedia's protest page on Wednesday. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
According to the New York Times, the New York Daily News, USA Today, Cnet and Mashable, hundreds (and maybe thousands) of people organized by the group New York Tech Meetup protested in person and with signs against SOPA and PIPA outside of the offices of New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats.
The group, which reportedly has about 20,000 members, targeted Schumer and Gillibrand for the protest because the two are co-sponsors of PIPA. The protesters, which police corralled into metal barriers on a sidewalk in front of the senators' Manhattan offices, called for Schumer and Gillibrand to withdraw their support for PIPA — a move a few politicians took on Wednesday amid the widespread online actions against the proposed laws.
While lawmakers in support of SOPA and PIPA have said that the bills are written to protect against online piracy and theft of American-made films, TV shows, music and other digital goods, those against the bills say the legislation would open the door to online censorship that would essentially ruin the free flow of information on the Web.
Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the New York Tech Meetup, told the New York Daily News that not only would SOPA and PIPA open the door to censorship of the Internet, but the laws would also have negative effects on the ability of the U.S. to remain a leader in the global tech industry.
"Because a new innovation by a start-up could be interpreted by a judge unfamiliar with how the technology works as infringing on copyright, investors and entrepreneurs would be discouraged from moving forward with a start-up due to a significantly increased risk of legal entanglement," Rasiej told the New York Daily News. "This in turn would dampen job creation and future opportunities for New Yorkers and Americans as a whole."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: People gather outside the offices of two U.S. senators from New York, including Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer, to protest against proposed laws to curb Internet piracy. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images
Wednesday, Jan. 18: the day of the SOPA "blackout" protest. As you may have seen from our coverage, major names in the online world such as Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla and Reddit are censoring their own websites with black bars and blacked-out pages in protest of SOPA and PIPA, two online anti-piracy bills currently under consideration on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers who support the bills say the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act will protect the intellectual property rights of music, movie and TV studios. But the websites and tech giants taking part in the Wednesday blackout argue that SOPA and PIPA would allow for a censoring of the Internet that would forever alter the Web and what we can do, say and publish online.
And it's not just Silicon Valley that's protesting SOPA and PIPA in the day-long blackout — a few publications that cover the tech world are taking part as well, including Wired and ArsTechnica.
Here's a list of more than 30 websites (and screen shots of each) we've spotted that are protesting today in the form of full-on blackouts or even just making their anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA stances known publicly. If there are a few we've missed, feel free to let us know in the comments.
Mozilla Firefox's start page
[Updated 12:29 p.m.: GigaOm.com is also against SOPA and PIPA, and on Wednesday the news site let that stance be known.]
[Updated 2:49 p.m.: Added the Jan. 18 anti-SOPA and PIPA protests on FunnyOrDie.com, PerezHilton.com, GoDaddy.com, KnowYourMeme.com, Imgur.com, BoardgameGeek.com, Newgrounds.com, UrbanSpoon.com, DemocraticUnderground.com and JoinDiaspora.com.]
[Updated 3:15 p.m.: Added the anti-SOPA and PIPA Jan. 18 stances seen on Heritage.org, GameBreaker.tv, Pocho.com, RateYourMusic.com and SparkFun.com.]
[Updated 4:51 p.m.: Added DayTrader.com's blacked-out Jan. 18 homepage.]
Images: Screenshots (made using the Mac app LittleSnapper) of websites taking part in the Jan. 18, 2011 protests against SOPA and PIPA by either blacking out their websites, or publishing statements condemning the controversial anti-piracy bills.
Apple rumors — they seem to work readers, writers and editors up into a frenzy producing an echo of reports around the Internet. These blips of salacious speculation seem to spawn anew multiple times each week and, from time to time, they also fail to line up with one another, instead butting heads in contradiction.
The latest example of such conflicting rumors is the recent reports published on the pending release of what the tech media has dubbed the "iPad 3," Apple's eventual follow-up tablet to the hugely successful iPad 2 of 2011 and first-generation iPad released in 2010.
Late last week, as many tech reporters were hustling to keep up with wacky gadgets and the evolutionary advancement of TVs, smartphones and tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Bloomberg News reported that Apple's next iPad would go on sale in March with 4G LTE connectivity (the first two iPads have Wi-Fi or 3G), a faster processor and a higher resolution touch screen.
Bloomberg didn't mention when it believed Apple would unveil the iPad 3, in its report, which cited three anonymous sources that reportedly have knowledge of Apple's plans.
Aside from the March-debut nugget of information, the rumored iPad 3 specs have been reported and re-reported countless times since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad 2 on March 2, 2011, ahead of the tablet hitting U.S. stores on March 11, 2011.
On Tuesday, the Japanese website Mackotakara reported that the unveiling of a so-called iPad 3 along with an update to Apple's iOS 5 operating system would take place in February. According to PCMag and Apple Insider, Mackotakara cited an unnamed Asian supplier and an anonymous source in the U.S. for its report.
So, do the Bloomberg and Mackotakara reports line up or contradict? When is the iPad 3 coming — February or March?
In all likelihood, only Apply really knows when it will launch its next iPad. And Apple, which is known to reschedule its events and product launches up to the last minute, isn't saying. The company never comments on speculation about its product launches.
But it could be that both Mackotakara and Bloomberg are right? Maybe (and yes, I'm speculating here) the iPad 3 will be unveiled in February and go on sale in March?
Apple introduced the original iPad on Jan. 27, 2010, but it didn't go on sale until April 3, 2010.
Complicating matters is the Taiwanese website DigiTimes (which has a reputation for publishing inaccurate tech rumors). The DigiTimes has reported that the iPad 3 would be released sometime this month — but the site has also said its unnamed sources have also said the iPad 3 may arrive in March or April.
Well, here's one thing you can count on: Whenever Apple's next iPad is released, the Technology blog (and the much of the tech reporting world) will have plenty of coverage of the eagerly anticipated new tablet.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Apple iPad 2. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles / Los Angeles Times
What does an Internet strike look like? You're about to find out.
Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and hundreds of other websites have pledged to go dark Tuesday night to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) — two anti-piracy bills that are currently making their way through Congress.
"This is an extraordinary action for our community to take," said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in a statement Monday announcing Wikipedia's decision to go dark. "While we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."
Wikipedia — the Web's fifth-most popular property with 470 million monthly users — is the largest Web entity to declare its intent to go dark, but it joins many other websites that have already pledged to shut down for 12 to 24 hours to draw attention to legislation that they say will hasten the end of the free Internet.
Reddit was one of the trailblazers of the blackout movement, declaring its intent to go dark on Jan. 10. Two days later, Ben Huh, chief executive of Cheezburger, which has a network of 50 sites including the seminal ICanHasCheezburger as well as Fail Blog, Know Your Meme and the Daily What, said his sites would be joining the strike.
Blackouts are not the only types of protest you'll find online Wednesday. Google announced Tuesday that, while its search engine will continue to function, the company will place a link on its home page to highlight its opposition to the bills.
“Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and Web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday. “So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our U.S. home page.”
And Scribd, which claims to be the world's largest online repository of documents, said visitors to its website would find a pop-up roadblock Wednesday in protest of SOPA and PIPA that will lead to a call to action and an online petition.
Craigslist started its protest early. A starred section at the top of the site urges users to "help put a stop to this madness" and links to a page dedicated to the topic.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: The Wikipedia home page.
Wikipedia is among hundreds of websites that will be showing just how they feel about SOPA by going dark Wednesday.
The English-language version of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, will be shut down for 24 hours in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, now working their way through Congress.
Jimmy Wales, site co-founder, told the BBC's Martha Kearney on Tuesday morning that "tomorrow from midnight Washington D.C. time until midnight the entire day of Wednesday, we're going to blank out" the English version of Wikipedia and post a message of protest.
He told Kearney that the legislation makes "something like Wikipedia essentially impossible … if the provider has to police everything that everyone is doing on the site."
Websites taking part in the so-called SOPA Strike include Mozilla, Reddit, WordPress and Boing Boing.
Twitter was hopping Tuesday morning with the news:
From the BBC's Philippia Thomas: "#Twitter chief says 'Closing a global business in reaction to a single-issue national politics is foolish'. How about that #Wikipedia?"
Greenpeace tweeted: " 'We're sorry, you're not allowed to read this.' Join us in saying no to corporate censorship of the internet."
The MPAA and others who support the law say the Internet operators have it all wrong. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday:
The Motion Picture Assn. of America and others driving the legislation said real progress had been made toward creating a law that would protect intellectual property. The advocates said misinformation is inflaming passions on the Web while doing nothing to solve the problem of piracy.
– Amy Hubbard
Photo: Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales in 2011. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press
The Rolling Stones vs. the Beatles
The Yankees vs. the Mets
IPhone vs. Android.
Some debates rage eternal.
Today the iPhone-vs.-Android debate came to the fore when Steve Wozniak — the man who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs back in 1976 — told the Daily Beast that despite loving the simplicity and beauty of the iPhone, he thinks that in some respects the Android just works better.
The Beast made the absolute most of the news by slapping a controversial headline on the story: "Even Woz Thinks the Android Bests the iPhone."
The truth, of course, is a little more nuanced than that.
For starters, keep in mind that this is a man who stood outside an Apple store in Los Gatos for 18 hours just a few months ago in order to be first in line when the iPhone 4S was released.
Wozniak's main issue with the iPhone is Siri, which he said no longer works as well as it once did.
“I used to ask Siri, ‘What are the five biggest lakes in California?’ and it would come back with the answer," he told the Beast. "Now it just misses. It gives me real estate listings. I used to ask, ‘What are the prime numbers greater than 87?’ and it would answer. Now instead of getting prime numbers, I get listings for prime rib, or prime real estate.”
He also said GPS navigation is better on Android phones, and that the battery life on the iPhone is frustrating.
Still, Wozniak said he still thinks most users would prefer the iPhone to the Android because, in the end, it's easier to use.
“The people I recommend the iPhone 4S for are the ones who are already in the Mac world, because it’s so compatible, and people who are just scared of computers altogether and don’t want to use them," he said. "The iPhone is the least frightening thing. For that kind of person who is scared of complexity, well, here’s a phone that is simple to use and does what you need it to do.”
Not so sacrilegious after all.
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: Wozniak demonstrates Siri, the personal assistant app on the iPhone 4S, on a new handset outside an Apple store in Los Gatos on Friday. Credit: John G. Mabanglo / EPA
A riot over iPhones? It may sound extreme, but an angry mob pelted a Beijing Apple store with eggs Friday after Apple announced that it would halt the release of its iPhone 4S at retail stores in China.
Apple said shuttering the stores was necessary to protect its employees and customers from the unruly crowds, many of them scalpers, that had started assembling outside the night before the phone's release.
It's a sad fact of human nature that the drive to get our hands on gadgets and gear has the power to make us act completely insane. Remember the Wal-Mart customer who nailed 20 other shoppers with pepper spray on Black Friday 2011?
And some products are more likely to inspire a frenzy than others.
So join us in a trip down memory lane, where we examine the release of three products that, like the iPhone, have displayed the power to make people act crazy.
1. Air Jordans: You sneaker heads and your Air Jordans. Back in the '80s, when the shoes were first released, suburban kids were told not to wear the pricey basketball shoes in certain neighborhoods for fear they would be mugged for a pair of sneakers. Thirty years later, the shoes have lost none of their potency. When Nike released its much-anticipated Nike Air Jordan XI Concord ($180) in late December, there were reports of violence and mayhem all across the country as customers fought with fists, knives and guns to keep a coveted spot in the front of the line.
The event is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. EST at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, not far from Central Park.
The invitation looks cool, featuring a line drawing of the New York skyline with an apple in the center. The text is cute too: "Join us for an educational event in the Big Apple."
And, in typical Apple fashion, it includes almost no other information.
The lack of hard facts has not stopped mass speculation about just what the "education announcement" might be about. Some might argue that the invitation's cryptic nature encourages it.
The general consensus is that Apple will be announcing an initiative related to iBooks in education — perhaps the textbook-on-iPad plan that Steve Jobs discussed with his biographer, Walter Isaacson.
Or could it be something else? Stay tuned.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: The invitation to Apple's mysterious "educational event." Credit: Apple Inc.
Each year on Jan. 9th, the country — or at least a bunch of school kids — celebrates the wonders of the old balloon-sticking-to-the-wall trick, the hair-raising that takes place after we take off our winter hats, and the shock of electricity that we get from petting a cat after scooting across a carpeted floor in socks.
And if you think we are making the holiday up, we are not. National Static Electricity Day is listed on the Hallmark Channel's Ultimate Holiday site, which lists at least two holidays per day, so it is all very official.
(Monday is also, apparently, Play God Day. Tuesday brings National Bittersweet Chocolate Day and Peculiar People Day).
In honor of this very important Static Electricity Day, we thought we'd provide you with a little refresher on how exactly static electricity works.
As you may remember from a middle-school science class, all matter is made of atoms, which are in turn made up of positively charged protons, negatively charged electrons and neutrally charged neutrons.
Most of the time the protons and electrons are balanced, but sometimes a surface becomes imbalanced. For example, when you rub a balloon against a wall, the electrons from the wall transfer to the balloon, making the balloon a negatively charged surface while the wall is a positively charged surface. Because opposite charges attract, you can then stick the balloon on the wall.
That static shock that you may remember feeling after petting your dog occurs when your body has excess electrons that you may have gathered from rubbing your stocking feet along a carpet for example. When you pet your dog, the electrons jump from you to your neutrally charged dog, making a crackling noise and giving you a little shock.
As for the hair-raising stuff, we'll let the one and only Bill Nye the Science Guy explain that in the video below. Enjoy!
— Deborah Netburn
Image: Laura Judson conducts an experiment in static electricity with a Van de Graaff generator in 2000. Credit: Handout
Organ Trail, a zombie-filled spoof of the beloved Oregon Trail computer game created in 1971 and played in elementary schools across America, is coming to mobile devices.
The Men Who Wear Many Hats, a group of indie developers that originally released Organ Trail as a free playable Flash game on its website in 2010, have raised more than $7,000 through the website Kickstarter, more than double their original fundraising goal. That gives them enough money to build a version of the game for the iPhone, iPad and Android.
“I often sit in awe, almost every day now, at the outpouring of love and support (and money) that community is giving us,” said Ryan Wiemeyer, a lead member of the group. “We know how to make games. We’re still learning how to put a product out. It’s pretty frightening, but I couldn’t be more excited to be pushing our group to new cool things.”
Organ Trail is based on The Oregon Trail, a computer game designed to teach schoolchildren about the challenges of 19th century American pioneer life — dysentery! Typhoid! Cholera!
In Organ Trail, instead of dealing with the trials faced by pioneers, the player deals with the trials of living in a world populated by bloodthirsty zombies.
“How will you cross the undead hordes?” read the directions to the game. “If you have money you might hire some bandits (if there are bandits). Or you can ford the undead and hope you and your bus aren’t swallowed alive!”
You know, just like The Oregon Trail, but not.
The Men Who Wear Hats released a free version of the game a few days before Halloween 2010 and report that it has since been played by more than 600,000 people.
Wiemeyer said the game might be available for the iPad in early spring, but that could change.
He also said the game was pretty easy to make because it is mostly a series of menus. The hard part was keeping it fun.
“We get to cheat a little because people already love the idea,” he said. “But the trick is to make something compelling enough that when that initial delight at all the puns and nostalgia wears off, we have them engaged in the experience.”
And how will it look? “We decided to stick to the Apple II color palette,” he said, “which is like 15 colors that all look like they came from an Easter-themed coloring book.”
– Deborah Netburn
Image: A screen shot from the Organ Trail game. Credit: The Men Who Wear Many Hats
Can the gospel of file sharing really be recognized as a religion? In Sweden it can.
In the midst of a worldwide debate about Internet piracy, Swedish authorities have granted official religious status to the Church of Kopimism, which claims it considers CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) to be sacred symbols, and that information is holy and copying is a sacrament.
The church was founded by philosophy student Isak Gerson, who is also the self-appointed spiritual leader of the movement.
In a statement on the church’s website, he says its religious roots stem back to 2010 and that it formalized a community of file sharers that already has been “well spread” for a long time.
“The community of kopimi requires no formal membership,” he writes. “You just have to feel a calling to worship what is the holiest of the holiest, information and copy.”
(For those who are unaware, kopimi is pronounced “copy me.”)
According to the Church of Kopimism website, church services consist of “kopyactings,” whereby the “kopimists” share information with each other through copying and remixing.
Bertil Kallner of Sweden’s Financial and Administrative Services told the Swedish newspaper Gagens Nyheter that a religious community could “basically be anything.”
“What’s important is that it is a community for religious activities,” he said.
Still, it took the Church of Kopimism three tries over the course of a year before members were able to formalize their way of praying or meditation so that they could be recognized as an official religion.
The blog Torrent Freak reports that membership in the church has grown from 1,000 to 3,000 in the last six months, and the founders expect more people to join now that its religious status is making a splash on the Internet.
“Being recognized by the state of Sweden is a large step for Kopimi,” said Gerson. “Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution.”
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: Is a file sharing organ in the works? They might model it off this one in the Holy Trinity Church in Kristianstad, on the east coast of Sweden. Credit: Katie Lee Pelon.
A Steve Jobs action figure? Just what you’ve always wanted!
Just three months after the death of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs, a company called In Icons has put images of a prototype Steve Jobs action figure on its website and the Internet is going crazy.
No one is surprised that the company thinks it can sell a 12-inch-high collectible action figure of Jobs for the proposed price of $99.
Rather, it’s the borderline disturbing level of detail that the company has put in the figure that is freaking everyone out. The prototype includes the pores on Jobs’ forehead, the subtle wrinkles under his eyes, even the veins on his hand.
The prototype also includes two extra pair of hands in case you lose the first pair, which is kind of freaky in a different way.
The Steve Jobs set also comes with two pairs of glasses, one black turtleneck, one pair of blue jeans, one black leather belt, two apples (one with a bite out) and one hard backdrop reading “ONE MORE THING.”
However, many media watchers are skeptical that the figure actually will ship.
Back in 2010, Apple blocked a company called M.I.C. Gadget from selling a Steve Jobs action figure on Ebay, saying that the action figure was a violation of its copyrights and trademarks.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: Screen grab of the Steve Jobs action figure pictured on InIcons.com. Credit: InIcons.com.
2011 was a big year for tech news–Steve Jobs died, Facebook and Twitter revolutionized the revolutionary experience in the Middle East, a new iPad came out, a new iPhone came out, and the world got to meet SIRI, Google+ and the Kindle Fire.
It was also a hilarious year, as tech reporters and savvy Facebook sharers and Tweeters found a steady stream of crazy tech stories to keep them entertained.
From the spate of fake Apple Stores in China to the news that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was building a 10,000-year clock, here is a list of 11 great stories from 2011 that made us grateful to be alive and paying attention in this completely insane age of the Internet.
1. Fake Apple stores popping up in China: We'd heard of people knocking off purses and shoes and wallets, but a whole store? That was new. So when a young American living in China blogged about a spate of fake Apple stores that had opened in her adopted city of Kunming, the Internet went crazy. The best part were the photos she had on her blog that showed the familiar pale wood surfaces, the glowing white Apple logo, and even workers dressed in those distinctive blue shirts.
2. The IE IQ hoax: For one brief, glorious moment, tech reporters thought it just might be possible that people who used the Internet Explorer browser were actually dumber than those who used other browsers. A company called Aptiquant put out a study that seemed to prove it. The story spread like wildfire, until it was revealed to be a hoax. When the truth came out, the guy behind it all had this to say: "It was just a joke, and I didn’t really mean to insult anybody."
3. Jeff Bezos spends millions on a 10,000-year clock: This year we learned that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has invested $42 million in a clock that will keep ticking for 10,000 years. Brian Eno (of all people) dubbed the project, which broke ground earlier this year, "the long now." "If you think something is important, and you think nobody else is going to do it, then it's a useful thing to do," Bezos told Wired.
4. MC Hammer's search engine: Remember this little gem? In October former rapper and ordained minister MC Hammer (AKA Stanley Kirk Burrel), announced WireDoo, a new search engine that he hoped would put Google and Bing out of business. Four months later the search engine is still in pre-beta, but you are invited to sign up for a test drive when it's ready.
5. Wife of Rovio executive dons Angry Birds dress: This was just a blip, but it was such a fun blip. While attending a formal event at the Finnish Palace, Teija Vesterbacka donned the most tasteful version of an Angry Birds dress we could possibly imagine. It was also an unexpected show of support for her husband, Peter Vesterbacka, chief marketing officer of Rovio, the company that makes the wildly popular Angry Birds game–he's usually dressed in an Angry Birds sweatshirt of some sort, but was wearing tails that night.
6. The rise of Rebecca Black: It feels like Rebecca Black's song "Friday" is a part of our shared past–like the kids from "Saved by the Bell" or the Spice Girls. But YouTube sensation Black is a totally 2011 phenomenon. The video for "Friday" went up on the video-sharing site in mid-February of this year. It spent about four weeks in obscurity before achieving world domination.
7. Nathan Myhrvold puts out a cookbook: What does a cookbook conceived by Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer of Microsoft and holder of hundreds of patents, look like? Well, it's 2,400 pages collected into six volumes, and costs $625. It's called "Modernist Cuisine," it came out in March of this year and it focuses on the science and technology (of course) of cooking. Unexpected, and reportedly brilliant.
8. Patent wars come to emoticons: If you've been following tech this year you are aware that there has been a huge patent war raging between Apple Inc. and its smartphone rival Samsung Electronics. A particularly low note in the battle? This year, Samsung went after Apple for the way it uses emoticons. It all sounds silly to us, but believe it or not, Samsung does indeed own a patent on smartphone use of emoticons. : \
9. HP's TouchPad mania: First no one wanted it. HP dropped the price. Still, no one wanted it. And so HP dropped the price again. And again. Then the company announced it would no longer make the product and dropped the price for a final time to $99. Then it sold out.
10. Charlie Sheen looks for an intern on Twitter: Charlie Sheen's crazy call for a marketing intern went out on Twitter in early March, just days after he was fired from "Three and a Half Men." The listing read: "Do you have #TigerBlood? Are you all about #Winning? Can you #PlanBetter than anyone else? If so, we want you on #TeamSheen as our social media #TigerBloodIntern!" The whole thing was basically a marketing ploy for Internships.com, which paid Sheen to post the ad, but it worked. After about an hour, his Twitter message had resulted in more than 127,000 clicks through to Internships.com via the Bit.ly shortened link in the tweet.
11. Alec Baldwin's American Airlines Twitter rant: The ultimate technology story of 2011 weaves together a tale of bad celebrity behavior, some furious and impulsive Twitter rants, the mobile Scrabble-like game Words With Friends and corporate explanations via Facebook pages. You can read all about it here.
Images clockwise from top left: A fake Apple store in Kunming, China, photographed by BirdAbroad; Charlie Sheen arriving at his Comedy Central Roast, photographed by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; emoticon face made by Deborah Netburn; Alec Baldwin as Pan Am head Juan Trippe in Martin Scorsese's movie "The Aviator," photographed by Andrew Cooper/ Miramax Films.
AGNES stands for "Age Gain Now Empathy System" and was designed by researchers at MIT's AgeLab to emulate what it feels like — physically — to be 75 years old with arthritis and diabetes.
"The business of old age demands new tools," said Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab. "While focus groups and observations and surveys can help you understand what the older consumer needs and wants, young marketers never get that 'Ah ha!' moment of having difficulty opening a jar, or getting in and out of a car. That's what AGNES provides."
Coughlin and his team carefully calibrated the suit to make the wearer just as uncomfortable as an old person who has spent a lifetime eating poorly and not doing much exercise.
Special shoes provide a feeling of imbalance, while braces on the knees and elbows limit joint mobility. Gloves give the illusion of decreased strength and mobility in the hands and wrists, and earplugs make it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds and soft tones. A helmet with straps attached to it compresses the spine, and more straps attached to the shoes decrease hamstring flexibility, and shortens the wearer's gait.
It's not a pretty picture of aging.
"The three words we associate with wearing AGNES are fatigue, friction and frustration," said Coughlin.
AGNES has been used most recently by a group of students working on a design for an updated walker. By wearing the suit they could see for themselves what design and materials would make the most sense for a physically limited older person. Coughlin said the suit has also been used by clothing companies, car companies and retail goods companies to help them understand the limitations of an older consumer.
If all this is making you terrified of getting older, Coughlin does offer a slight reassurance.
"AGNES is not the destiny of everybody," he said. "She is a badly behaved lady who didn't eat and exercise very well. A secondary benefit we've found with AGNES is that it has become a powerful tool to get younger people to invest in their long-term health."
Image: AGNES goes for a stroll. Credit: Katie Godfrey / MIT AgeLab.
It's not easy being a kid today. Everywhere you turn it seems like adults are out to make you look like a spoiled, entitled brat.
The most recent example is comedian Jon Hendren's list of real tweets from kids who were angry that they didn't get an iPhone, or iPad, or a car for Christmas. Hendren assembled the tweets on Christmas Day and published them on his own Twitter feed.
Here is a G-rated sampling:
"No Iphone. I hate my dad."
"Seems like I'm the only one who didn't get an Iphone for christmas."
"If you got an iphone i hate you."
Hendren's list of bratty re-tweets quickly made its way around the Internet, showing up in blogs and other Twitter feeds where adults expressed dismay at the entitlement of the youth today.
"Twitter reveals the worst Christmas gift getters ever," Leslie Horn of PC Mag wrote.
The list even became the inspiration for a song by the singer Jonathan Mann. A YouTube video of the song featuring profanity-filled tweets went up Tuesday and got more than 117,000 views in less than 24 hours.
We agree that the tweets are super obnoxious, but we can't help but wonder whether kids today actually feel more entitled than ever before, or is it that thanks to sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, adults are just aware of how entitled kids have always been, and more likely to exploit that entitlement, which could just be called "childhood" and "adolescence."
Consider the popular YouTube challenges that late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel occasionally issues to parents to essentially prank their kids and record their reactions.
Kimmel's Christmas challenge – in which he asked parents to give their kids terrible Christmas presents and then keep the camera rolling while the kids cry or patiently explain that they didn't want an onion for a present — has had 14.25 million views on YouTube.
Kimmel's Halloween challenge, in which he asked parents to pretend to have eaten all their kid's Halloween candy, has been viewed a whopping 25.8 million times.
Yeah, it's funny ha-ha, but it's also kind of mean.
– Deborah Netburn
Video: Jimmy Kimmel's YouTube challenge: I gave my kid a terrible present. Credit: YouTube.
Why make the Large Hadron Collider's ATLAS detector out of Legos? Well … why not?
Sascha Mehlhase, a physicist based in Copenhagen, has built a 1:50 scale replica of the ATLAS detector, which is part of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator.
Physicists hope the LHC will help them discover the Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle," which is responsible for mass of all the fundamental particles in our universe. "We hope to learn the nature of dark matter, which is most of the mass of our universe," said physicist Michael Barnett, one of the ATLAS coordinators of education and outreach. "We may even get lucky and discover that there are extra dimensions of space beyond those three we know."
As for the Lego version of the ATLAS detector, well, that just looks neat.
"It is an interesting concept because the ATLAS detector itself was quite a feat, with tens of thousands of pieces having been built in 38 countries and assembled by 3,000 physicists at the LHC in Geneva," Barnett said.
The real ATLAS detector is 75 feet tall and wide, and about 150 feet long.
Mehlhase's model is about 1 1/2 feet high and a bit over 3 feet long. In an email to The Times, he said he spent about 48 hours creating a digital 3-D model of the ATLAS using Lego's Digital Designer software. Assembling the detector took an additional 33 hours, he said, but he spread that out over weekends and after hours and got some help from his wife. In total, he used about 9,500 Lego pieces, he said.
Mehlhase said the whole project cost about 2,000 euros ($2,614), but because the model will be used for outreach, the Niels Bohr Institute, where he works, picked up the tab. (The labor, however, was free).
Those interested in building their own ATLAS detectors are in luck: Mehlhase said he is working on a construction manual that should be available soon, and Barnett said the ATLAS team is working with Mehlase to help create a slightly less difficult version of the project.
Mehlhase's ATLAS model may be the geekiest thing ever made out of Legos, but it is hardly the only one.
Here are six of our favorites:
1. The Lego iMac: Lego building superstar Chris McVeigh has made a lot of iThings in Legos, including an original Lego iPod in gray hues, and a Lego iPad with raised icons. His sleek Lego iMac is spot on and includes a Lego keyboard and Lego mouse.
2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 trailer in Legos: In November, Kooberz Studios (Alex Kobbs) made a shot-for-shot re-creation of the trailer for the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, using Legos and stop animation. In the video, cotton balls form smoke and clouds, and guns fire hand-drawn explosions.
3. The Lego stair car: Television comedy geeks will love Matt De Lenoy's stair car, a replica of the absurd vehicle Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is forced to drive around in "Arrested Development." On his Flickr page, De Lenoy writes that it took him two nights to build the car, and another night to carefully cut out the Bluth Company stickers.
4. Lego conceptual art: For a Lego artist, Nathan Sawaya is decidedly high-minded. His "Infinity" looks kind of like an M.C. Escher drawing, except that it's made of Legos.
5. Lego Zanzibar: Another piece by Alex Kobbs of Kooberz Studios. This is a scale replica of the Halo 2 Zanzibar map.
6.Lego portable cassette Recorder, circa 1987: Angus MacLane is an avid lego builder and an animator for Pixar. His Flickr page is full of super-cool Lego creations, including a robotic fighting chicken and a robotic praying mantis, but we're partial to his portable cassette recorder featuring an old-school portable cassette recorder and a Lego cassette tape.
Photo: The Large Hadron Collider's ATLAS Detector, in Legos. Credit: Sascha Mehlhase
Italy has fined Apple 900,000 euros, or about $1.2 million, accusing the tech giant of selling consumers two-year AppleCare warranties when they were entitled to free two-year warranties under Italian law.
The Italian Antitrust Authority said in a statement that instead of offering consumers a no-cost two-year warranty and tech-support plan, Apple offered only a one-year plan and charged consumers an extension fee for the second year in the form of its AppleCare Protection Plan.
This resulted in Italian consumers being misled into paying for something they should have received at no extra cost, according the agency's statement, which was reported earlier by the BBC.
The one-year warranty and the second year as an AppleCare purchase is the same warranty that Apple offers in the U.S. and many other countries.
Apple officials were unavailable Tuesday for comment on the announcement.
In addition to the fine, the antitrust agency said, Apple has 90 days to update its Italian website to reflect that it now offers a free-of-charge two-year warranty.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of AppleCare two-year warranties being sold in Apple's online Italian store. Credit: Apple
The first Steve Jobs statue was unveiled Wednesday in a tech park in Budapest, just two and a half months after the Apple visionary's death.
The bronze statue is 6 1/2 feet tall. It was commissioned in mid-October, just days after Jobs died, by Gabor Bojar, the founder of Graphisoft, a Hungarian software company that develops software for architects.
The news went out over the PR Newswire and is also displayed prominently on Graphisoft Park's website, but we're choosing to believe that the unveiling of the statue is not solely a publicity stunt for the software company.
It turns out that Graphisoft and Jobs had a long history that began in 1984 when Jobs came across some of Graphisoft's software and was impressed enough to help the company out.
"Apple's support included cash and computers at a time when Graphisoft was a small company with limited resources, working within the economic and political confines of what was, at the time, communist Hungary," Bajor said in a statement. "Apple also introduced Graphisoft to its worldwide distribution network, which we rely upon to this day."
The statue was crafted by Hungarian sculptor Erno Toth. He depicted Steve Jobs in his trademark attire: jeans, turtleneck and little round glasses.
We'll admit that we don't fully understand the meaning of the kind of grotesque hand/claw, but it does give the statue a sort of Rodin-esque gravitas.
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: Hungarian sculptor Erno Toth with his statue of the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, at Graphisoft Park in Budapest. Credit: AFP / Getty Images.
Let it snow? Just in time for the holidays, Google has rolled out the latest in a string of neat tricks that you can play with the search engine.
For those who haven't tried it yet, pull Google up on your browser and type in the words "let it snow." Then enjoy a snow flurry right on your computer screen.
To keep the wintery fun going, Google also added a frosty element to the experience: As the snow continues to fall, your computer screen will fog up. Click the "defrost" button to clear it, or use a mouse to draw hearts, or initials or whatever else you want in the fog. You can click defrost at any time to start over again.
A spokewoman from the company sent the following statement about the Let It Snow trick in poem form:
Through the fog, you have to peer
Because it's the most wonderful time of the year
Your page turned into a winter wonderland
When you typed in that search command
You can always defrost the window
Or just let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Well, it's not a poetry house, but they do like to have fun.
Google has some other neat tricks up its sleave, and if your work is slow for the holidays, now might be a perfect time to try them.
1. Type in the word "askew" into the search engine. Tilt your head and enjoy.
2. Type in the word "tilt." Hold your head askew and enjoy.
3. Type in the word "recursion." Google will wonder if perhaps you meant to type the word "recursion."
4. Google didn't forget Jews. Type in the word "Hannukah" for some festive non-Christmas holiday screen decor.
5. Type in "anagram." Google will wonder if perhaps you meant "nag a gram."
Unfortunately, some of the Google classic tricks are no longer functioning. It used to be that if you typed in the words "Chuck Norris" you would get a statement that says, " You don't find Chuck Norris, he finds you."
There was also a time when if you typed the word "Gravity" into the search engine you'd watch all the copy on the page plunk to the bottom. It doesn't do that anymore, but you can see what you missed here.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: A screen shot of what happens when you type "let it snow" into Google and then write "let it snow" in the fog with your mouse.That blob at the bottom was supposed to be a heart.
Just when you thought the Christmas Light show videos on YouTube couldn't "wow" you anymore, along comes this gem from a geeked-out metalhead set to Slayer's "South of Heaven."
The video was made by a guy we only know as lacycute20. (The YouTube channel used belong to the metalhead's daughter, but she handed it over to Dad to showcase his metal light shows.) He's also done light shows to songs by Pantera and Machinehead and some other Slayer songs. But it's the "South of Heaven" show that is currently gaining traction on YouTube, racking up more than 715,000 page views in less than three weeks.
It's not just the unexpected music choice that sets lacycute20's light shows apart — it's also the visuals. He's got a sinister-looking singing snowman, shooting stars, floodlights and two neon hands throwing the sign of the devil flanking the front door of his house.
Even if the metal holiday light show isn't your thing, you've got to respect the dedication of all these guys who create elaborate home light shows and put their videos up on YouTube. Earlier this year the guy behind an extravagant Halloween light show that went viral on YouTube said it takes him 15 hours to program one minute of music.
That's dedication to the holidays, man.
– Deborah Netburn
See that picture? That is not just an image of a drum machine on a shirt. That is an actual drum machine on a shirt.
A functioning drum machine.
A drum machine that contains a real working looper and 9 different kits with seven professional-grade drum sounds each.
A drum machine that allows you to record loops that last up to three minutes.
A drum machine that comes with a working mini-amp that you can clip to your belt.
The drum machine T-shirt is just the latest in Think Geek's extensive line of interactive apparel that, as Wikipedia says, is "heavily related to and sometimes only understood within the Internet culture." Other items in the line include the electronic music synthesizer shirt, the electronic rock guitar shirt, and the electronic drum kit shirt. And if all this isn't dorky enough, there's also a Wi-Fi detector hat. It looks like a baseball hat but has bars on it that glow when a good Wi-Fi connection is nearby.
Now that's geeky.
But back to the drum machine shirt — a spokeswoman for Think Geek said that despite the shirt's unusual functionality, it is not heavy to wear. It does require four AA batteries. The shirt is washable, but you'll have to take the drum pads and the electronics out first. Think Geek says it's not as hard as it sounds.
The shirt costs $29.99 and is available on Think Geek's website. To see the shirt in all its absurd action, check out the video below.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: Drum machine shirt. Credit: Courtesy of Think Geek
What do popular iPhone games have to do with a little-known indie pop band that hails from Brisbane, Australia?
Well … nothing. But that didn't stop the band Hey Geronimo from conceiving, and then actually making, a music video for their single "Why Don't We Do Something?" that incorporates real-life versions of Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope and Flight Control.
It's neat. It's funny. Cats are involved, and so are dogs in costumes. And it's gotten the band worldwide attention on YouTube ,where their goof-ball video has received more than 650,000 views in just two weeks.
Of course, just because a video is goofy, doesn't mean it was easy to make.
Pete Kilroy, lead singer of Hey Geronimo and the producer of the video, said the band spent six months working on and off to make the video. "Making films with no money = hard yakka!" he wrote in an email.
He also said he thought the Plants Vs. Zombies part was the most fun to make, "Until one of the sunflowers fainted… (It was 100 degrees!)"
The best parts to watch, in our opinion, are the all too brief Angry Birds scenes in which members of the band, dressed in full Angry Bird costumes, jump on a trampoline and then hurl themselves into a life-size replica of the elaborate structures in the game.
Kilroy said he and his crew built the set out of "Lots and lots of polystyrene," and added that he is "on a first-name basis with Dorris and Meryl down at the box factory now."
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: The Brisbane, Australia-based band Hey Geronimo has made a music video that riffs off of popular iPhone games. Credit: Hey Geronimo
The HP TouchPad isn't dead yet. While Chief Executive Meg Whitman and the top brass at Hewlett-Packard Co. decide what to do with WebOS, the tech giant is reportedly set to sell one last batch of TouchPads at the fire-sale price of $99 on EBay.
The last time HP marked its lone consumer-minded tablet down to $99, the company did so in an effort to unload the slow-selling slates after Whitman's predecessor, Leo Apotheker, decided to abandon WebOS and WebOS devices such as the TouchPad and the Pre smartphones.
Officals at HP were unavailable for comment Wednesday night on the reported EBay sale.
The TouchPads that will reportedly hit EBay will all be refurbished units and they'll hit the online retail and auction website at 6 p.m. Dec. 11. A TouchPad with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage will sell for $99, and those with 32 gigabytes of storage will be available at $149, the reports said.
HP employees will have a chance to buy the refurbished TouchPads on EBay — and not on HP's own online stores or anywhere else — before the sale goes live to the public, TechCrunch said.
"In an effort to give HP employees first chance at a very limited supply of refurbished TouchPads, there will be a short delay between when the product is posted live for sale on EBay and when the general public is notified of the sale," the memo reportedly said.
HP will also be selling "an optional three-piece accessory bundle with a case, charging dock and wireless keyboard for $79.
TouchPads will be limited to two per EBay user "sold on a first come, first served basis," the reports said.
So, who's excited about possibly buying a tablet with probably little or no app or manufacturer support?
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A Hewlett-Packard TouchPad tablet running apps on its WebOS operating system. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
It's a story fueled not only by the distinctly modern ability of a celebrity (or anyone for that matter) to instantaneously air a grievance to a worldwide audience, but the ability of that audience to turn that grievance viral.
Twitter is a major player in this saga, so is Facebook, and so is our culture's obsession with mobile games — especially those made by Zynga.
As best we've been able to piece together from Twitter reports, Facebook wall posts and an old-fashioned telephone statement from Baldwin's PR rep — the whole Alec Baldwin vs. American Airlines fiasco began Tuesday afternoon with the celebrity sitting on an airplane, using a mobile device to play Words With Friends.
The cabin doors closed, and the passengers were asked to turn off all electronic devices. Baldwin refused, and a disagreement ensued.
We have American Airlines report of the incident via the company's Facebook page:
"The passenger ultimately stood up (with the seat belt light still on for departure) and took his phone into the plane's lavatory. He slammed the lavaotry door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed, even with the cockpit door closed and locked….The passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language. Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding."
Baldwin's version of events was delivered with more spontaneous verbal flair immediately after the event.
Using the Twitter account @Alecbaldwin to get his message across he wrote, "Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericaairisbankrupt.”
Zynga, the company that makes Words With Friends, knew just how to handle what it saw would become a viral story. The company quickly launched its own viral campaign "Let Alec Play" and included the following update on its own Facebook site:
"Word of the day: ALEC (adj.) Typically associated with "smart" as its prefix to refer to wise guy, or smarty. Worth at least 8 points! this one goes to the smart ALECs out there — playing our game at the risk of getting in trouble!"
In the meantime, Baldwin has exploited the fleeting nature of all our digital communications. On Tuesday night he asked all his followers to unfollow him so he could crash his account and start again.
By Wednesday morning his account was listed as deactivated.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: Actor Alec Baldwin at the 30th anniversary of the People for the American Way Foundation celebration in Beverly Hills. Credit: Reuters.
The plans were posted on Cupertino.org this week, revealing that the roof of the circular main building will be covered in photovoltaic solar panels.
"Apple proposes to create Apple Campus 2 — an integrated 21st century campus surrounded by green space," the updated plans said. "This new development will provide a serene and secure environment reflecting Apple's values of innovation, ease of use and beauty. The state-of-the-art office, research and development facilities include strategies to minimize energy demand, reduce car travel and increase the use of reclaimed water."
The main building totals 2.8 million square feet in four stories and can accommodate as many as 13,000 employees, the plans said. Jobs, when he proposed the new campus to the Cupertino City Council in June, said that Apple had about 12,000 employees in the Silicon Valley city.
"Campus amenities will include a striking cafe within the main building, a separate corporate fitness center and a corporate auditorium seating 1,000 people," the plans said. "Parking will be provided under the main building and in one multistory parking structure."
Apple is promising that its new campus, which is expected to open by about 2015, will be environmentally friendly with an on-site power plant "that will supply the majority of the power needed for the campus."
The website 9to5Mac has estimated that the solar-panel-covered roof will make the new Apple campus one of the largest solar power generators in the U.S.
The new site will also be home to 300,000 square feet of separate research facilities that "will house technical support functions that need to be located adjacent to the main building."
The exterior of the main building will be covered in curved glass. Apple has said that landscaping will make up 80% of the 150-acre site that it purchased from PC-maker Hewlett-Packard Co.
"It's a little like a spaceship landed," Jobs said of the proposed building before the Cupertino City Council. "It's a circle, and so it's curved all the way around. As you know if you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There's not a straight piece of glass on this building, it's all curved.
"And we've used our experience in making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use."
Check-out some of the new renderings Apple has submitted after the jump.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A rendering of the proposed Apple Campus 2 facility. Credit: Apple Inc.
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
The Angry Birds logo has graced sweatshirts, playable birthday cakes and even a Finnair airplane. Now it has been reinterpreted as an elegant one-shouldered evening gown.
Awesome? Insane? Glamorous? Ridiculous?
The gown in question was worn by Teija Vesterbacka, the wife of Peter Vesterbacka, Chief Marketing Officer of Rovio, the company that makes the wildly popular Angry Birds game app. According to media reports, Mrs. Vesterbacka wore the gown at a formal event at the Finnish Palace on Tuesday evening. The event was in celebration of the country's independence.
Her husband, who tends to favor a red Angry Birds hooded sweatshirt, was dressed in white tie and black tails.
Reaction to the dress on the Internet has been mixed. The word "hideous" has been mentioned, but that seems a little mean-spirited. If you are determined to wear a dress that incorporates Angry Birds imagery in it this one seems to be almost…tasteful.
She could have gone in the Bjork swan direction after all. This at least looks like a dress.
And here's an interesting note: In a recent news release Rovio said it is about to open the world's first official Angry Birds retail shop in Helsinki, Finland.
One would assume the retail shop might have Angry Bird pens and mugs and plush toys and maybe a sweatshirt or slippers, but perhaps formal wear will be available as well.
For the record, 1:45 p.m. Dec. 12, 2011: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Peter Vesterbacka as head of Rovio. His correct title is chief marketing officer.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: Teija Vesterbacka wearing an Angry Birds formal gown. Credit: Matti Matikainen
The head of Research In Motion's Indonesia division is reportedly under investigation after a stampede of consumers broke out at a launch event for a BlackBerry smartphone last month.
Police in Indonesia told Reuters that about 5,000 people were on hand to buy a new BlackBerry phone on Nov. 25 in Jakarta. As customers rushed forward to see and purchase the new phone, "dozens passed out in the crush," Reuters said in a report about the incident.
Now, authorities there are saying that Andrew Cobham, RIM's Indonesia chief executive, is suspected of being responsible for the event getting out of hand, Reuters said.
Officials at RIM were unavailable on Monday to comment on the report.
"Police also named a security consultant hired by RIM, an event organizer and a manager of the sale's shopping center venue, as suspects who are likely to be charged," Reuters said.
The launch event generated an overnight line of more than 1,000 consumers and the main attraction was a 50% discount on the phone for the first 1,000 people to make a purchase, the report said.
Cobham hasn't been arrested, but he "has been banned from traveling overseas. He must go through the legal process here," Jakarta Police investigator Budi Irawan told Reuters.
If charged and found guilty of negligence, Cobham could face a maximum penalty of nine months in jail, the report said.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A screen shot of ID.BlackBerry.com, Research In Motion's Indonesian websites. Credit: RIM
The Syrian government has reportedly banned the use of the Apple iPhone in an effort to prevent activists from documenting the ongoing uprising in that country and government violence against protesters.
Activists in Beirut were notified of the iPhone ban in a letter from the Syrian Finance Ministry that reads "the authorities warn anyone against using the iPhone in Syria," according to reports from the Haaretz newspaper in Israel and the U.S. website the Next Web (which quoted the Lebanese site El Nashara).
Since the Syrian protests began Jan. 26, opposition groups — who are calling for political reform and the ouster of President Bashar Assad, an increase in civil and human rights and a democratic government — have used devices such as smartphones to document online, in photos and video, the government's violent response to their actions.
The United Nations has said that more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since major protests began in March and fears of civil war have arisen as well.
According to Ria Novosi, a Russian news site, protest groups have built and distributed an iPhone app, called Syria Alone, that offers independent news reports and "a collection of videos and jokes" that mock Assad.
According to both Haaretz and the Next Web, no other smartphones have been banned yet. But unnamed protesters reportedly did say, in both reports, that the ban has made it so that "it is enough for any tourist or guest visiting Syria to own an iPhone to be a spy suspect."
In the Haaretz report, a protester added that "Steve Jobs must be turning in his grave on learning that his iconic device is banned in his home country."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Pro-Syrian regime demonstrators gather in Damascus on Dec. 2 during a rally against sanctions by the European Union against the Syrian government. A banner of President Bashar Assad hangs from a building. Credit: Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press
Talk about a hot story: On Tuesday an article on MSNBC.com suggested the possibility of hackers from across the world hacking into a printer and giving it instructions so crazed that the printer would overheat and catch fire.
The piece was based on interviews with Salvatore Stolfo, of the Computer Science Department of Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and his team of researchers who had spent months investigating the hackability of Hewlett Packard printers with the help of various research and security grants.
“The research on this is crystal clear," Stolfo told MSNBC. "The impact of this is very large. These devices are completely open and available to be exploited.”
Stolfo and his team illuminated many ways that hackers could exploit the printers they hacked — using them to steal personal information, or attack otherwise secure networks, for example. But the piece of the story that suggested flaming printers is the part that quickly caught fire on the Internet.
By the middle of the day, however, HP had issued a lengthy refutation that its printers can catch fire.
"Today there has been sensational and inaccurate reporting regarding a potential security vulnerability with some HP LaserJet printers," the company said in a news release. "Speculation regarding potential for devices to catch fire due to a firmware change is false."
The company concedes that there is a potential security vulnerability with some of its LaserJet printers, but says no customer has ever reported unauthorized access.
As for the fire potential, the company had this to say: "HP LaserJet printers have a hardware element called a 'thermal breaker' that is designed to prevent the fuser from overheating causing a fire. It cannot be overcome by a firmware change or this proposed vulnerability."
– Deborah Netburn
Image: An HP LaserJet 1022. Credit: Hewlett-Packard