SciTechBlog
May 29, 2009

Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology

Posted: 03:47 PM ET

The collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has banned the Church of Scientology from editing the site. The Register reports Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, or ArbCom, voted 10 to 0 in favor of the ban, which takes effect immediately.

Wikipedia's innovative free-encyclopedia draws upon the knowledge of millions of users to create and edit articles on every conceivable topic. Edits appear immediately and do not undergo any formal peer-review process.

Wikipedia officially prohibits use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas – such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute – but the open format makes enforcing such policies difficult.

According to Wikipedia administrators speaking to The Register:

Multiple editors have been "openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities."

However, Karin Pouw, with the Church of Scientology's public affairs office, told me she is unaware of any coordinated effort to alter Wikipedia. Instead, she described the edits as individual attempts to correct inaccurate information by impassioned Scientologists and interpreted the ban as a typical Wikipedia response to arguments over content. She noted that even the U.S. Department of Justice received a temporary ban after someone  erased references to a controversial scandal from inside the government agency.

One Wikipedia contributor I spoke with that was involved in the Scientology arbitration agreed that some of the edits coming from the church were justifiable, but insisted the ban was necessary after the church refused to follow Wikipedia's policies:

"The edits coming out of Church of Scientology servers were of the sort that made their organization look better.  Up to a point that's justifiable, when it comes to correcting inaccuracies or removing poorly sourced negative information. There were times when they went beyond that and deleted well sourced information that was unflattering, and there were times when they insulted other editors in a manner that would reflect poorly upon any religion."

Some see Wikipedia's decision as a setback to the Utopian goal of Web 2.0 in which every user is allowed to freely contribute.

How do you feel about the ban? Should Wikipedia actively suppress self-serving, misleading or inaccurate information? Or does every voice deserve to be heard?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • Religion


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May 28, 2009

Artist uses iPhone to 'paint' New Yorker cover

Posted: 08:33 PM ET

Add one more to all the amazing (and sometimes useless) tasks that can be achieved on an app-loaded iPhone. cover_newyorker_190

Artist Jorge Colombo "painted" the cover of the current issue of The New Yorker using Brushes, an application for his iPhone, while standing for an hour in New York City's Times Square. You can see how he did it at the magazine's blog, which hosts a 51-second video (speeded up, I think) of the virtual picture coming together.

The impressionistic nighttime scene, titled "Finger Painting," depicts a street hot dog vendor and his customers.

"I like using my fingers. I like the quick eyeballing of colors. I like the endless Undo function," Colombo told CNET. "Wish I had a bigger screen, and long drawing sessions depletes my battery. I'm all the time ducking into cafes or restaurants, forcing myself to consume something while I recharge the phone on a socket to go do more drawings."

I'll leave the critics to decide whether it's a great work of art. But as a tech milestone, I think it's pretty cool. A professional painting, done on a smart phone!

Now when the iPhone can make a pizza and open a beer bottle, I may actually buy one.

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Filed under: iPhone


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May 27, 2009

Apple plans $1 billion 'server farm'

Posted: 11:00 AM ET

Apple appears to be planning a major upgrade to its online capabilities. Reports indicate the company is shopping around for a location to build a $1 billion server farm. This cluster of networked computers would power Apple's future Web operations.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers his keynote speech at Macworld on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers his keynote speech at Macworld on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco.

The iTunes and the iPhone app store are certainly growing, but this massive project suggests Apple may have something new up its sleeve - or is the $1 billion price tag expected given the Apple gear that will likely be used?

Data Center Knowledge writes:

The size of the project raises interesting questions about Apple’s ambitions for its online operations. The $1 billion price tag is nearly twice the $500 to $600 million that Microsoft and Google typically invest in the enormous data centers that power their cloud computing platforms.

While the location of the data center is not yet decided, the Associated Press reports North Carolina lawmakers are salivating at the prospect of of bringing a billion dollars to their state. Legislators have proposed tax breaks for Apple that could amount to $46 million in the next decade, assuming the company reaches its $1 billion investment target within nine years:

Though the Apple site is initially expected to employ fewer than 100 full-time workers, legislators said the potential prize was so juicy it justified changing the state's corporate tax formula to benefit a single company.

Is Apple hoping to compete with Google's online cloud-computing capabilities or is a new video service like Hulu in the works? How do you think Apple will use its new online muscle?

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Filed under: Apple • computers • Google • Hulu • Internet


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New PS3 games out this week

Posted: 09:55 AM ET

Step into the shoes of an ordinary man who becomes extraordinary in the single-player game "Infamous" for the PlayStation 3. Or check out the heroic world of "Cross Edge," also for the PS3, where you're on a quest to find and release souls.

It's time to get your game on - CNN's David Daniel has the scoop on the biggest video game releases in this week's Gameplay:

Filed under: video games


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Microsoft's Zune HD to debut this fall

Posted: 09:39 AM ET

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced it will release a new portable media player this fall. The Zune HD, with its rectangular design and touch-screen navigation, looks as if it is designed to compete with Apple's high-end iPod Touch, which is pretty much like an iPhone without the phone.

Among the Zune's new features is the fact that it can play HD radio over a Wi-Fi Internet connection. That sets it apart from some other media players, but, as San Francisco Chronicle blogger Ryan Kim writes, new features alone won't help any of Apple's competitors to take down the iPod Touch. The real power of the Zune HD may be in its ability to link up with Microsoft's gaming service, Xbox Live.

As we know, a list of features alone can't unseat Apple. Ask SanDisk and others. But if Microsoft can really integrate the Zune HD with Xbox Live and extend its media offerings across a number of devices, it'll have a compelling story for people who may be interested in having a cross-platform approach for entertainment. Tune in next week for more info.

CNET says Microsoft may have more details about how Zune HD will work with Xbox next week at E3, a major gaming and entertainment conference in California:

The software maker also said that at next week's E3 trade show in Los Angeles it will announce details on a new Zune-branded video service for the Xbox that will replace the current Xbox Live marketplace for TV and movies. The company didn't announce details or specifically say that content will be playable on both Zunes and the Xbox.

As a newbie to the gadget world, here's my question: Why not link up the Zune HD with a phone? Or, put in Apple terms, why would you buy an iPod Touch when you can get the essentially the same device, with a phone, in the iPhone?

It seems that more gadgets are breeding and folding into each other. Video games are moving onto phones, as Wired reports. Phones are being used in South Korea to let people access public transit, check into their school classrooms and pay bills, accoridng to the New York Times. What's the advantage of having a separate media player?

That's meant to be a genuine question, not a snarky remark. I'd like to hear what you all think in the comments. Are you excited about the Zune HD? What do you think will come of Microsoft's announcements next week?

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Filed under: Apple • iPod • media players • Microsoft Corp.


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May 26, 2009

Twitter on TV?

Posted: 08:14 AM ET

Just when you thought reality TV had done it all, Twitter throws its virtual hat into the ring. The web site "has partnered with Reveille and Brillstein Entertainment to develop an unscripted TV skein described as 'putting ordinary people on the trail of celebrities in a revolutionary competitive format,'" according to Variety.com.

“Twitter is transforming the way people communicate, especially celebrities and their fans,” Reveille managing director Howard T. Owens said in a statement Monday. Owens expects the new project to “unlock Twitter’s potential on TV.”

However, Twitter's official blog stems any thoughts of a solely-twitterific show. Here's their statement:

Regarding the Reveille and Brillstein project reported today, we have a lightweight, non-exclusive, agreement with the producers which helps them move forward more freely.

So basically they have nothing - yet. But the world is abuzz with possibilities of Twitter TV. What do you think? Should Twitter become the sole "Survivor" means of communication on the island? Should the "Bachelorette" judge her men based on their 140-character love letters? Or have you had enough of this micro-blogging phenomenon?



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Filed under: Twitter


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May 25, 2009

Commentary: iPhone mania will outlast Palm Pre

Posted: 04:21 PM ET

Palm's newest entry into the smart phone battle, the Palm Pre, is scheduled to be released on June 6, just two days before the expected release of the iPhone's 3.0 software.

The Pre was first announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It kind of stole the show - something I didn't expect at all. Before converting to the iPhone last July, I was a firmly entrenched Palm Treo user (and NOT the Windows version, either). Palm had been bought and sold too many times to count, the current operating system was long overdue for an overhaul. Quite frankly, I was over it.

Then came the Pre - and wow - could this really be an iPhone contender? It was to have all the things the iPhone was missing: a real keyboard - one that slides out from behind the phone - as well as cut and paste functions, multi-media messaging (MMS), global search, applications that run in the background and live notifications. Of course, Apple announced the 3.0 software, which is expected to bring the iPhone up to par on those features.

I haven't been able to get my grubby little hands on a Pre, but it does look cool. The so-called WebOS looks to be innovative - perhaps as innovative as the iPhones - and is designed to be used with only one hand.

And don't get me started on the optional inductive charger, which means you can put the phone right on top of the charger without connecting a cord (think Sonicare). Can the rest of the world please adopt and standardize this technology?

But will I buy one? Not unless someone else is footing the bill. I'm addicted to the iPhone for now and I just can't see giving it up.

What about you? iPhone vs. Palm Pre: which do you see coming out on top, or is there room for both on the stage? I can see the Pre garnering lots of support from the people who don't like the iPhone for one reason or another, or who prefer Sprint over AT&T. But can it compete with the momentum the iPhone has?

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Filed under: iPhone • Palm Pre • smartphones


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What is 'Web 3.0,' and should you care?

Posted: 11:38 AM ET

The tech community, always moving toward the newest thing, has come up with a fresh term for the world to chew on: Web 3.0.

The idea, which vaguely refers to a third era of Internet technology, is nascent enough that many discussions about it seem to center on its definition.

Nova Spivack, Twine's founder, said in an interview last week that Web 3.0 is more chronological and simple than some would make it out to be. It just means we're in the third decade of the Internet, which technically began in March, he said.

"We’re in Web 3.0 now. It happened," he said.

TechCrunch's MG Siegler said in another interview that Web 3.0 isn't worth defining yet because the next phase of the Internet won't come until the economic recession lifts and investors start pushing cash back into tech companies.

We will need a term to define that new era, but it likely won't be "Web 3.0," he said.

A little background may help set the stage for the term. Web 2.0 generally referrs to the period between 2005 and 2008, when the Internet got much more social. MySpace, Facebook and YouTube blossomed, and the Internet became more conversational than before. Web 1.0 - you guessed it - came before Web 2.0. In those days, Web sites were less interactive. Some say Web 1.0 ended with the California dot-com market crash in 2001.

Perhaps more useful than discussing the merits of Web 3.0 as a term would be to list some of the up-and-coming trends in technology online. Here are a few that seem to be getting the buzz lately. Some of these ideas may factor into the next phase of the Internet, whatever we decide to call it:

  1. Real-time: Information is moving faster online now than before. Breaking news events occur on Twitter, the micro-blogging site, not just on news Web sites. Real-time searches allow users to get the latest buzz and to converse. Read more from Siegler at TechCrunch.
  2. Semantics: Researchers are trying to teach computers to understand us better so they will know what we mean when we search for something, not just which keywords we're typing in. CNET's Tom Krazit writes that Google is downplaying the importance of the 'Semantic Web' but is actually moving in that direction.
  3. Open communication: There's a lot of data online. Citizen scientists are compiling it and computer scientists are using it, but some predict open communication and product development will be stamps of the new Web era. More on this from Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb.
  4. Mobile and Geography: Some say geography is playing a bigger role in the informaiton we post online. As Will Sullivan points out in a recent post to Poynter.org, the rise of GPS-enabled phones is feeding this trend.

What are you all noticing? Chime in with a comment to this post and I'll do my best to respond.

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Filed under: Google • Internet


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May 22, 2009

Are Facebook photos forever? The site responds

Posted: 09:45 AM ET

Here's an update to yesterday's post about photos on social networks and blogs living online after you delete them. [For background: Cambridge did a study that found photos don't go away 30 days after you delete them from several sites, including Facebook, MySpace, hi5 and Bebo.]

I got a response from Facebook last night. Here it is, as e-mailed to CNN:

As stated in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, the governing document for the site, “when you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).“  We are working with our content delivery network (CDN) partner to significantly reduce the amount of time that backup copies persist.

What about the report (the CDN issue)?

It is possible that someone who previously had access to a photo and saved the direct URL from our content delivery network partner (this is different from the Facebook URL) could still access that photo.  We are working with our content delivery network (CDN) partner to significantly reduce the amount of time that these backup copies persist.

Thanks to those of you who responded to the post with comments. Several of you expressed concerns that photos might live online after you'd like them to be gone. Others said this is common sense by now: everyone should know not to post something on the Internet unless they would like it to live forever.

Here are a few of my favorite responses:

A user named "El Common Sense" wrote: "People don’t think about what they post online and one of these days, it will come up and bite them in the butt. I’m amazed at just how much personal info is shared and then people are afraid of ID theft, terrorists and whatever else?"

Nigel wrote that he'd noticed this problem on Facebook: "I was surprised to hear someone report seeing a posted photograph on Facebook a week or more after I had deleted it."

Jon raised another issue: What if someone else posts a photo of you?

Then there is the problem of OTHER people posting pictures of you online. There’s little you can do about those aside from removing the tag on Facebook or telling the poster to cease and desist. Easy blackmail, anyone?

On that point, here's a post from New York Times that explains how you can keep people from being able to search for photos of you on Facebook. The writer says you can't prevent people from tagging you in photos, though. Do you all think that feature should be added to the site?

[UPDATE at 3:18 p.m. ET: Smart point on untagging, from Noelle in the comments: "A note on the NY Times article. While Facebook does allow anyone to tag you in photos, you can remove the tag, and it can’t be re-tagged after you’ve removed it. Plus, all photos in which you’re tagged show up under your photos, so you can find them easily."]

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Filed under: Facebook • social-networking sites


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Astronauts enjoy recycled urine

Posted: 09:02 AM ET

The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) tasted their own urine Wednesday - and NASA didn't even have to double-dog dare them.

Astronauts celebrated by "clinking" their drinking bags together in a traditional cheers before sipping water composed of recycled urine, sweat and atmospheric moisture. The cheers marked the initiation of a closed loop water recycling system aboard the ISS.

NASA claims each crew member creates about a gallon of water from urine every six hours, but the source water doesn't just come from the space station's human occupants. "Lab animals on the ISS breathe and urinate, too, and we plan to reclaim their waste products along with the crew's. A full complement of 72 rats would equal about one human in terms of water reclamation," Layne Carter, a water-processing specialist with NASA, said in a statement released by the space agency.

On NASA TV, Flight Engineer Mike Barrett confirmed "the taste is great," as another astronaut swam through the air catching floating bubbles of the recycled water. "This has been the stuff of science fiction," Barrett said on the program. "Everybody's talked about recycling water in a closed loop system, but nobody's ever done it before. Here we are today with the first round of recycled water."

Tom's Hardware is less enthusiastic about drinking the potent potable:

While it might sound completely gross to us, the water is probably cleaner than what we drink on earth. That being said, I’d rather take my chances with Earth water than drink the purified urine of a rat. Really.

Similar water purification technology was employed after the Asian tsunami in 2004, but with large scale use there is typically a much larger gap between urine and tap.

Would you be willing to drink reclaimed urine, or are you sticking to bottled water while Evian is available?

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Filed under: NASA • Space


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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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