SciTechBlog
April 30, 2009

The Pirate Google

Posted: 09:27 AM ET

The Pirate Bay defendants may have been unsuccessful when they tried to compare their site to Google before a judge, but that didn't stop one anonymous web designer from launching The Pirate Google, a Google search gateway which tries to make the point that digital files can be accessed through Google as well.

Ars Technica scored an interview with the mysterious coder and he (or she) explained the site's intention.

"The purpose of the site was simply to provoke discussion on issues such as piracy, net neutrality, and the power of the Internet as a disruptor of more traditional forms of media."

While The Pirate Google doesn't add any additional search functionality, it clearly demonstrates Google's ability to satisfy a searcher's thirst for torrents, both legal and otherwise.

A short mission statement on the fledgling site's homepage reads:

This site is not affiliated with Google, it simply makes use of Google Custom Search to restrict your searches to Torrent files. You can do this with any regular Google search by appending your query with filetype:torrent.

The intention of this site is to demonstrate the double standard that was exemplified in the recent Pirate Bay Trial. Sites such as Google offer much the same functionality as The Pirate Bay and other Bit Torrent sites but are not targeted by media conglomerates such as the IFPI as they have the political and legal clout to defend themselves unlike these small independent sites.

Does the Pirate Google further the Pirate Bay's cause or is it simply rehashing an already failed argument? Will Google be the next victim in the entertainment industry's fight against the Internet?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • piracy • Uncategorized


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April 29, 2009

CDC backs social-media coverage of swine flu

Posted: 05:59 PM ET

There's been much talk in the past couple days about how useful social media is, or isn't, for disseminating information during an emergency.

A writer from CNET sums up the situation well:

The role that social media has played in the spread of information throughout the swine flu outbreak has been significant. Some would argue that social media has helped to fuel the fire, along with the constant coverage on the news. For better or for worse, social media is likely to be one of the primary mediums through which information spreads in a crisis moving forward.

On Tuesday afternoon, I posted an update to my story about the controversy over swine flu info on Twitter. I found it interesting that the top spokesman for the CDC told me he thinks social media's role in the swine flu outbreak has been positive, on the whole. From the story:

"I think it's generally a useful development, but I would encourage people to look to other sources, especially established, recognized medical authorities," said Glen Nowak, chief of media relations at the CDC. "It shows that people are engaged and they care and that it's caught their attention - and those all are good things."

Furthermore, Nowak said studies show that, in a crisis, people tend to get their information from multiple sources. They also rely most heavily on information from the medical community, he said.

The social media conversation continues today. Check out Facebook's maps and charts that show how much traffic this story is getting there. And, of course, CNN has interactives and a map to help you understand the story.

Or, you can always follow the CDC on Twitter.

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Filed under: social-networking sites • technology • Twitter


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Obama in 3D: White House photos on Flickr

Posted: 10:45 AM ET

For President Obama's 100th day in office, the White House rolled out a stream of photos on Flickr, the photo-sharing site.

My personal favorite is the one at right, which shows the president and first lady watching the Super Bowl in 3D glasses. Thanks to a co-worker at iReport for passing that along.

As Wonkette notes, Obama used a Flickr account during his campaign, but his photographer hadn't posted any photos of his time in the White House until today. (check out CNN's special coverage of Obama's first 100 days).

Such fun, back in the day, when you could look at “Barack Obama’s Photostream” on the Flickr. But then, he became President, and suddenly no more fun pictures. Well, rejoice! White House photographer Pete Souza uploaded a whole bunch of great White House Official Pix, and you can look at them, because you OWN them (if you paid taxes).

The stream seems to reinforce the message that Obama is hip to social media. Instead of pushing out photos and information only through official sites - like WhiteHouse.gov - the administration has become known for using social media like Twitter and Facebook to get its message across.

I find it interesting that celebrities and politicians seem to use these mediums to get closer to their fans and constituents. Never before could so many people talk so directly with famous people as they can now online. The Flickr photos also are a technological follow-up to Obama's national address where he took Internet questions and streamed the answers online in video format.

As a counterpoint, the UK's Telegraph writes about how today's milestone is merely another opportunity for the American media to gush about the president:

... the American media have already put Mr Obama on a pedestal. The sometimes cranky Washington Post columnist David Broder described the president's 100 day sprint as "a bravura opening". For Time Magazine (where Mr Obama is once again on the cover) the columnist Joe Klein described Mr Obama's legislative achievements to date as "stupendous" – listing the $789 billion stimulus bill, a budget plan that is still being hammered out and progress on a landmark safety-net programme aimed at providing universal health insurance.

What do you think? Which photos are your favorites? Do you find politicians on social media to be genuine? Is it more than a PR stunt? Feel free to weigh in on this post with comments.

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Filed under: Flickr • social-networking sites


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Nielsen: "Twitter quitters" could block growth

Posted: 09:35 AM ET

Sorry for the swarm of Twitter news, but I thought even some of you Twitter haters out there (yeah, I see you in the comments ... ) might find a new report from Nielsen interesting.

The main finding: Only 40 percent of people who start using Twitter come back a month later. So while lots of people are trying the site, most of them aren't with the trend for very long.

That 40-percent rate is much lower than MySpace and Facebook, other social media sites, Nielsen says:

... even when Facebook and MySpace were emerging networks like Twitter is now, their retention rates were twice as high. When they went through their explosive growth phases, that retention only went up, and both sit at nearly 70 percent today.

Nielsen has more on what this could mean for Twitter's growth:

To be clear, a high retention rate doesn’t guarantee a massive audience, but it is a prerequisite. There simply aren’t enough new users to make up for defecting ones after a certain point.

On a brighter note, the ratings group also says Twitter's retention rate - those who come back to the site - has increased since Ashton Kutcher started the much-publicized Twitter race with CNN and Oprah jumped  on the micro-blogging bandwagon. And there are plenty of new-media observers who say Twitter is the next big thing for news and conversation online.

It's hard not to argue that the site is already changing the way people communicate.

And it's also hard to avoid being a little amazed at the sheer pace of Twitter's expansion: the site saw more than 1,300 percent growth in roughly the last year.

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Filed under: social-networking sites • technology • Twitter


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April 28, 2009

Laptops for India; postponing Obama's tech agenda

Posted: 12:48 PM ET

Here are a few stories CNN.com is watching today:

INDIA: By now, you've probably heard of the One Laptop Per Child project (background from CNN), which seeks to lift poverty and spread peace by giving kids in developing countries inexpensive laptops. Ars Technica, the tech blog, writes about an interesting development in that effort: India has decided to jump on board after it opposed the program. The country also has stopped trying to create a $10 laptop after that turned out not to be possible, the site reports:

OLPC launched a pilot program in India in 2007 with 20 XO laptops at a school in Khairat-Dhangarwada village in the state of Maharashtra. Although the pilot program was successful, the country's Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) was highly skeptical about OLPC, and expressed concerns about the health implications of prolonged laptop use among students.

The MHRD later reversed its views about the health implications of youth computing and launched its own dubious program to build a competing $10 laptop. Unsurprisingly, the $10 laptop never materialized. When the country finally unveiled its highly ambiguous plans for its $10 "Sakshat" computing initiative earlier this year, it was revealed that the device would not be a laptop and would cost significantly more than $10 to produce.

OBAMA: President Obama wants us to be creative, NYTimes staffer Andrew Revkin writes on his blog DotEarth. The president made the remark in front of a group of scientists, saying also that the scientific community needs to get out in the public. The remarks seem to go right along with Obama's apparent philosophy that innovation will help the U.S. address many of its problems. More from the post:

In the address, he called for scientists to move out of the laboratory into society, essentially becoming emissaries in what he said must be a national movement to inspire and enable young people “to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

CREATIVITY: CBSNews.com has a blog post saying the economic recession has put Obama's technology agenda on hold. Here are some of the projects and appointments that have been delayed, according to the post:

Some of the most important pieces of the president's technology policy are only beginning to unfold. Less than two weeks ago, Obama appointed Virginia's secretary of technology, Aneesh Chopra, to be his chief technology officer. Chopra is responsible for formulating an open government directive within the next 20 days and will work closely with Obama's chief information officer, Vivek Kundra.

Obama's pick to chair the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, has yet to be confirmed, but he is expected to push for more Net neutrality regulation.

All three appointments, Scott said, "reflect a strong commitment to a new kind of technology policy, (and) a commitment to making technology work for the government."

What's on your mind today? Any technology or science stories catching your attention? Feel free to weigh in with a comment.

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Filed under: technology


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Tech trends: computers see you, and may compete on "Jeopardy!"

Posted: 09:09 AM ET

Computers are getting way smarter - or at least are trying to, as a few recent news reports indicate. Here are a few stories CNN.com finds interesting:

JEOPARDY: NYT says IBM computers soon will compete against contestants on the game show "Jeopardy!" Unlike in chess, where there are fewer possible moves or questions, it's unclear if the computers will be able to beat humans on the show:

Indeed, the creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the I.B.M. founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully against the show's human champions, who typically provide correct responses 85 percent of the time.

MONITORS: CNET writes about computer monitors that can "see" whether or not you're at your desk. That's a little creepy, but it does save energy. The monitors sense motion, which leads the author to joke about trying to sit with ninja-like stillness to trick the screen:

The EcoView feature allows the monitors–using motion detectors–to detect if a person is sitting in front of it. If it senses for 40 seconds that no one is there, it puts the monitor into sleep mode. It then resumes normal operation when the user returns.

APP WINNER: Wired has a follow-up to the buzz over the billionth download of an iPhone app. A 13-year-old apparently downloaded the billionth app - a free program that lets users exchange contact info by knocking their iPhones together.

He’s not the only winner. Bump Technology also stands to gain from having its app mentioned in the first paragraph of an Apple announcement.

The company’s free app (paid version soon) is simple but potentially useful. Enter your phone number, address, e-mail address, and photo, and you’ll be able to beam any or all of that information to another iPhone or iPod Touch user who also has the app installed with a simple fist-bump greeting gesture. Contact information gets swapped over an encrypted internet connection, not Bluetooth or an ad-hoc WiFi connection, but that could change this summer when Apple enables peer-to-peer connections on the devices.

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Filed under: computers


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April 27, 2009

Facebook may open to developers

Posted: 09:30 AM ET

The Wall Street Journal and TechCrunch say Facebook will announce this afternoon that it will open up its platform to developers.

That's significant, as TechCrunch notes, because Facebook largely has sought to control information on its site. The announcement could lead to programs that allow social media users with several profiles - one on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google, etc. - to update information through a central hub.

More on that from TechCrunch:

Also of note is that apparently Facebook will begin supporting more open standards for the transporting data. It's not yet clear exactly what this will mean, but presumably it could help alleviate some of the issues I wrote about last week in noting that Facebook, Google and others were creating what were essentially proprietary profiles, that forced all of us to actively use and update all of their services.

The Journal says Facebook is taking a cue from Twitter, which has been all over the news lately and has seen rapid growth in the past year:

Facebook, which has around 200 million users world-wide, has been heavily criticized for not doing more and for requiring developers to write some services using a customized Facebook programming language. Other companies like micro-blogging service Twitter have generated buzz by opening up more of their core features to developers.

A formal announcement is expected at 1 p.m. ET, TechCrunch says.

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Filed under: Facebook


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The strange concept of white holes

Posted: 07:50 AM ET

In researching a story about what it might look like if you were to fall into a black hole, I came across the concept of white holes.

This is not a new idea, but it’s fascinating, so for those of you who have never heard about it, here’s a primer.

Think of a white hole as an “anti-black hole,” according to Cornell University’s Curious About Astronomy Web site. So if black holes are places where matter is sucked in, white holes could be where it spews out, like water through a fire hose.

“Some people say maybe all that material that’s collapsing into this black hole… goes through a worm hole or some theoretical idea and blasts out in some other place in the universe,” said Jeff McClintock, senior astrophysicist, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Another way to look at it is through the waterfall analogy. If you think of a black hole as space falling down one side of a ravine, imagine it bouncing off the bottom and climbing back up the other side, said Andrew Hamilton, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“But you never see that thing in nature and it doesn’t happen in real black holes,” Hamilton said.

The concept of white holes is totally theoretical and most people don’t give it much credence, McClintock added.

“Thousands of astronomers are just grinding their brains away on black holes,” he said. “You compare that to a white hole, I don’t think you’ll find one astronomer grinding his brain away.”

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Filed under: Astronomy • Space


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April 24, 2009

Biofuel loses fight with California pollution regulators

Posted: 10:00 AM ET

The biofuel industry has lost its battle against California regulators over rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from various fuels, including corn-based ethanol.

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The California Air Resources Board (CARB) late Thursday approved the controversial Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which would force fuel producers to lower their “carbon intensity” of their products by 10 percent by 2020.

“They have made a huge mistake in demonizing first generation biofuels,” said Brooke Coleman of the New Fuels Alliance, a biofuel lobbying group. Coleman called the new rules a “biased regulation that drives investment away from all biofuels.”

Carbon intensity is what fueled the controversy. It’s a rating system meant to classify each fuel by how much greenhouse gases they produce for every unit of energy that they create.

CARB Chairman Mary Nichols touted the board’s decision, predicting that the new rules will reduce air pollution, create new jobs and “continue California’s leadership in the fight against global warming.”

Makers of ethanol said the rating system unfairly ties their U.S.-made corn-based fuel to mass deforestation – not in the United States – but in developing nations. Ethanol critics say the entire biofuel industry should bear global responsibility for clearing of trees to make farmland to grow crops that will be used to make the fuel.

The rules have taken on a pretty high profile since they were proposed. Several U.S. states are considering similar measures and even the European Union watching with interest.

In the months that the debate has been raging, people have been voicing a lot of strong opinions about this issue. So, what do you think about the ruling? Fire away!

In other news, CNN's iReport wants to know what you think of iPhone apps. How do you use them? What's your favorite? Tell us about your iPhone app experience!

Filed under: climate change • Energy • environment • Ethanol • Fuel • Uncategorized


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April 23, 2009

Apple hits 1 billion iPhone apps

Posted: 06:02 PM ET

The billionth iPhone app was downloaded from Apple's App Store shortly after 5 p.m. ET today. All of those App Store downloads took place in only 9 months, so that's about 5.5 million iPhone app downloads per day, on average.

1 billion iPhone apps downloaded

It's clear that the iPhone and its many applications are a key part of our culture and the way people communicate with each other these days. TechCrunch has some more on the speed of the iPhone global takeover (and a hilarious McDonald's spin-off headline: "1 billion served"):

Last summer, Apple sold one million 3G iPhones worldwide across 21 countries in the first 3 days on sale. During that same time, iPhone users made 10 million app downloads from the then newly launched iTunes App Store.

The Silicon Alley Insider also wrote about the pace of downloads - and the sheer volume. By their estimate, the average iPhone user has 30 apps:

With about 30-35 million iPhone and iPod touch devices in the market, that suggests the average person has downloaded about 30 apps. That's a lot! Most mobile users download zero apps on their phones.

The race to 1 billion stalled the iPhone app store for a bit this afternoon, tuaw.com writes:

The iTunes Store was showing up as unavailable for several people off and on throughout the afternoon. Even Apple itself jumped the gun a little bit by having its after 1 billion page already available early Thursday, in addition to the counter in iTunes showing the 1 billion mark before the official counter on Apple's website.

In honor of the milestone, I pulled in a few lists of the best iPhone apps. What do you all think of them? Tell us in the comments.

Current most-downloaded list: from Apple
Top 11 apps: from Time
Most popular: from Wired
Best apps of 2008: from Gizmodo

How do you use iPhone apps? What’s your favorite? Tell us about your iPhone app experience!

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Filed under: Internet • iPhone


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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