SciTechBlog
August 31, 2009

MobileMe catches iPhone thieves

Posted: 10:24 AM ET

Swiping a GPS-enabled phone could ruin your plans for the weekend.

Cell phone thieves beware: that shiny iPhone you just nicked from a naive tourist could be leading police to your location quicker than a trail of donuts. New GPS features such as Apple's Find My iPhone tool allow users to locate lost or stolen phones on the Internet.

Stories of elaborate iPhone rescue missions such as this adventure posted by Kevin on his blog at Happywaffle.com are popular online topics. And, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Find My iPhone may have snagged its first official arrests this weekend.

Ben Parr at Mashable praises these new tracking features:

With GPS technology becoming more and more prevalent, we’re hoping to hear more of these stories, and that they will make crooks think twice before committing robbery or a more serious crime. Find My iPhone is just the beginning of a new technology wave that helps us fight back.

Most tracking services require users to opt in before losing their phone, and many, such as Apple's MobileMe, require a monthly fee. Also, phones can only be located while powered on, so clever thieves and dead batteries could always foil your detective work. But the satisfaction of solving your own phone mystery is still enticing.

Have you every used Find my iPhone or another GPS tracking service to locate your lost device? Were you successful?

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Filed under: Apple • consumer tech • gps • iPhone • technology


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August 27, 2009

Techies share favorite iPhone apps

Posted: 07:15 PM ET

Curious to know which iPhone apps are considered worthiest by the world’s leading bloggers and tech enthusiasts?  I had a chance to eavesdrop on an all-things-cool session at the Gnomedex technology conference in Seattle last week.  Here are a few apps that people mentioned.

These changed my life – at least for a minute!

AudioBoo lets you record and share mp3 audio files up to three minutes in length.  You can add text, titles, photos as well as geolocation info. (Free)

PocketMeter allows you to measure any room or distance using sound to bounce off objects.  You just point the iPhone’s microphone at the floor or wall and tap on the screen.  The app emits sound and measures the time it takes for the echo to return.  It can calculate distances between 8 inches and 13 feet within 0.4 inches of accuracy. ($0.99)

Sonar Ruler similarly uses echoes to measure distances up to 60 feet. ($0.99)

AppSniper is an app about apps.  It allows you to track apps when they go on sale and it tells you when they are within your price range. ($0.99)

Boxcar conveniently sends you push notifications anytime you receive a mention or a direct message on your Twitter account.  It conveniently works with most Twitter clients, so you can view a message once you receive a push. ($2.99)

Pocket Universe, an augmented reality app, is a planetarium in your pocket.  Just point your phone up to the sky, and it simulates the exact night sky above you, complete with the names of all the constellations.  The app works best on the iPhone 3GS, which has a digital compass and an accelerometer. ($2.99)

AutoStitch lets you create panoramas out of multiple pictures you snap with your iPhone’s camera. ($1.99)

Geocaching is a global treasure-hunting game where players can locate hidden containers or ‘geocaches.'  The app uses the iPhone’s GPS capability to provide a list of real-time information about geocaches near your location. It’s available in English, Dutch, French, German and Japanese.  ($9.99)

So what are your favorite iPhone apps right now?  Mine is Bump, which lets you exchange contact information with other iPhone users simply by bumping phones.  It certainly came in handy when I ran out of business cards at Gnomedex!

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone • smartphones • technology


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August 26, 2009

The future of gaming?

Posted: 01:00 PM ET

Gamers will pay as they go for downloaded video games in the very near future, according to the president of a game-development company.

"Borderlands" is scheduled to be released October 20.

Christoph Hartmann, the president of 2K, tells CNN he expects people will pay for different levels of gaming content as developers find new ways to get their product to gamers. Hartmann believes downloadable content, or DLC, is just the first step, and that future gamers will be willing to pay fees to access new levels of a game.

“Some people just want the basic game and are willing to pay a certain amount for it,” he says. “If you have great content, people will come.”

While sales of video game consoles have slumped in recent months, Hartmann believes that lowering the prices of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will help bring back consumers.

But from a developers’ perspective, there is more freedom on the PC side of gaming, he says.

Hartmann points to “Borderlands,” a new online game from 2K Games and Gearbox Software due out on October 20, as an example of new content that takes risks.

“Borderlands” is set on the harsh, frontier planet of Pandora and sends players out in search of a mysterious Alien Vault. Hartmann describes it as a fusion between a first-person shooter game and a role-playing game. Gamers can join and leave the co-op game at will or choose to play in the single-player mode.

With “Borderlands,” 2K Games hopes to challenge the conventions of modern shooter games.

“With a million different games out there, we had to be different,” Hartmann says. “We feel very confident we’ve developed a different experience.”

Gameplay isn’t the only thing different about “Borderlands.” Hartmann says 2K Games took a chance on a radical new style that mashes together traditional computer-animation techniques with hand-drawn textures. The result is an eye-catching spin on a game that was more than three years in the making.

The company also plans sequels to two popular games in its catalog – “Mafia II” and “Bioshock 2.” Hartmann is vague about gameplay details but says 2K Games employed a formula to help develop the sequels.

“One-third known material, one-third improved and one-third new,” he tells CNN. “That’s where the ‘Matrix’ series went wrong - by trying too much new stuff.”

– Larry Frum

Filed under: video games


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Twitter parody site requires 1,400 characters

Posted: 10:10 AM ET

Do you need more than 140 characters to express yourself? Are tweets too short to describe that delicious Qdoba burrito you had for lunch? Did the wrap-it-up music cut you off while you were accepting your Oscar?

You may want to consider Woofer. This macro-blogging site offers a Twitter-like interface without any pesky character limits. In fact, your Woof must have at least 1,400 characters before it can be posted.

If you think the 1,400-character minimum is a bit excessive, you are probably right. Woofer admits it is a parody site and not a Twitter competitor:

This is a website for parody purposes only. Twitter neither endorses nor is affiliated with this website or company in any way.

We are huge fans of Twitter, and think it's an amazing concept.

Woofer pulls information from Twitter but does not require a password, so most posts, so far, are celebrity impersonations. Other users are posting copied text to reach the 1,400 mark.

Woofer may not serve any purpose at the moment, but I probably would have felt the same way about Twitter back in 2006. Does this anti-Twitter have a future? Or will this parody be gone tomorrow?

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Filed under: Internet • Twitter


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August 25, 2009

Celebrating Ramadan on the iPhone

Posted: 02:51 PM ET

The month-long Islamic observance of Ramadan began on August 21 this year, inspiring one iReporter and iPhone enthusiast to explore how technology and religion collide.

"I was in Morocco for a couple of weeks and people were talking about Ramadan (taking place) in summertime,” Antonio Lopez Herreros explained. Before long, he found an iPhone application called the iQuran, which allows users to read the Quran.

Herreros introduced the app to two of his friends in Morocco and captured them sharing their joy about the Ramadan season with each other, using their iPhones in a short film he calls “Ramadan is Coming (Where is my iPhone?).”

“The inspiration for ‘Ramadan is Coming’ was to join the joy of this religious month with the technology with maximum respect,” explained Herreros. “When you are happy, you want to share with your friends and family all the special moments. In this film they share special moments with the iPhone in their daily lives.”

This isn’t the first time that the iPhone has appeared in Herreros’ iReports. In July of last year, he excitedly covered the launch of the iPhone in his hometown of Madrid, Spain. He then introduced the smart phone to his grandmother and her best friend, created a short film based on their love for the device and posted it on iReport.com. In the film, the two are completely in awe as they discuss the latest iPhone applications.

Herreros composes original music for his films and they are all shot, of course, on his iPhone.

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Filed under: iPhone


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August 24, 2009

Gnomedex puts the human face on tech

Posted: 01:53 PM ET

Warm and fuzzy.  That’s how I felt after attending Gnomedex in Seattle for the first time. Those are words you generally wouldn’t associate with a tech conference.  In case you’ve never heard of Gnomedex, it’s an annual gathering  for self-proclaimed geeks, like myself, organized by tech enthusiast Chris Pirillo.

Full disclosure here – I came to know Pirillo when I started working with him on his quirky video segments for CNN.com Live.  We stream them each Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

This year’s theme at Gnomedex 9.0 was human circuitry – the intersection of humanity and technology.  Pirillo sought speakers who would share personal experiences that would inspire others.

I was uplifted by the fact that this year’s conference attracted the most number of female attendees for any Gnomedex.  Why?  “Stories,” Pirillo told me, as we were listening to Amber Case, a cyber anthropologist, share strangely alluring tales about human beings and prosthetic culture.  “Putting the word ‘human’ in there was like, ‘Oh, so it’s not a geek’s conference as much as it is about people,’ ” said Pirillo.

Emotional talks from Drew Olanoff and Mark Horvath also elevated the ‘H’ factor at Gnomedex.  Olanoff, recently diagnosed with cancer, started a campaign on Twitter inviting others to blame everything in their lives on his cancer – by using the hashtag #blamedrewscancer.

Olanoff became emotional on stage while describing the radical shift his life took since he was diagnosed in May.  His story touched the audience – as evidenced by the prolific updates on FriendFeed and Twitter.  One person there tweeted, “I #blamedrewscancer for all the tears in the audience. #Gnomedex”  Olanoff wrapped up his session by embracing two attendees who had also been diagnosed with cancer.

Horvath, another inspiring speaker at Gnomedex, uses his vlog Invisiblepeople.tv to raise awareness about the plight of homeless people.  Once homeless himself, Horvath is currently touring 25 cities to put a face on the problem by bringing real stories to life.

Horvath’s words had immediate impact.  The word ‘homeless’ briefly trended on Twitter during his session, and someone in the audience passed around a hat, raising $1800 for a tent city in Seattle called Nickelsville.

Pirillo told me he thought he wouldn’t be able to top Scott Maxwell’s standing ovation from last year’s Gnomedex.  Maxwell’s job is pretty much the envy of all geeks: he drives the Mars Rover.  This year, the audience stood up twice – once for Olanoff and once for Horvath.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume the audience at Gnomedex was more interested in surfing the Web than in the conversation unfolding on stage.

“This is a conference where a lot of people have their laptops open,” said Pirillo.  “We can always tell which speaker has lesser impact when the bandwidth spikes,” he chuckled.

But the online activity is also a sign of a deeper engagement – a real-time feedback loop between speaker and audience.  During sessions, Pirillo monitors his Twitter stream #gnomedex to gauge what’s resonating with the audience and what isn’t.

“That’s where you learn when you’re doing good content or bad content.  If they’re talking about what’s happening you’re OK,” said Pirillo.

Pirillo made me promise to mention Mona Nomura, whom he credits for pulling 98% of the conference together in a mere two months.

“I’m not a female, and I’m not taking away from birth but every year, it’s like giving birth,” said Pirillo about the challenges of putting on Gnomedex each year.

“Now we have nine beautiful children.  Some are a little more beautiful than others, some are a little ugly,” he laughed.  What about this one, I asked.  His reply: “This one was very beautiful.  There’s a couple of pockmarks, but I find perfection in imperfections."

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Filed under: Internet • social-networking sites • technology • Twitter


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August 21, 2009

Would you pay to Twitter?

Posted: 03:36 PM ET

One question has been nagging at Twitter for years: How to make money?

A piece of the answer to that question was revealed this week as Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told VentureBeat that Twitter plans to start charging for a premium service.

“Twitter will still be free for everybody and we’ll still tell them to go crazy with it,” Stone told the blog. “But we’ve identified a selection of things that businesses say are helping to make them more profit.”

As of now, the popular micro-blogging site doesn't charge for its service. It also doesn't run ads.

Some of the services the company reportedly will charge for:

  • Site analytics, which tell businesses about how people are using their Twitter feeds
  • A "commercial layer" for the social network to be rolled out this year, VB says
  • Certified accounts, so you can know for sure a person or company is who they say they are

There aren't many details about the services available. The interview comes on the heels of the release of a Twitter 101 business guide. And it's another indication Twitter is catering to the business crowd (read: people with money).

But what do you all think? Would you pay for extra Twitter services? Do you use Twitter for business? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

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Filed under: Twitter


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August 19, 2009

Teaser sites promote the story, not the video game

Posted: 06:37 PM ET

In today's video game universe, it isn’t enough to get publicity at conventions and gaming sites. More publishers are seeking extra online buzz by creating special teaser Web sites that sell the backstory of the game instead of the game itself.

The teaser site for "Bioshock 2."

Two big upcoming games - "Bioshock 2" and "Batman: Arkham Asylum" - have creative teaser sites that offer some history behind the game's story. If you didn’t already know they were associated with the video games you might not be able to tell, because the two sites don't specifically mention the games by name.

The "Bioshock 2" site, www.somethinginthesea.com, offers cryptic details about strange sightings in the ocean and children who've mysteriously gone missing. The home page depicts a 1960s-era office with metal filing cabinets, bulletin boards, radios and more; when the user clicks on certain objects, clues are revealed that offer glimpses into the game and explain how some of its characters were created.

By contrast, "Batman: Arkham Asylum" offers what looks like a stodgy Gotham City municipal Web site with links to city services, the mayor's office and paying utility bills. But when users click on the "Breaking News" headline about a fire at Blackgate prison that required its inmates to be transferred to Arkham Asylum, they discover such other tongue-in-cheek links as one for Arkham Care, which promises "even the most diseased mind can be cured." Eventually, users discover parts of the Joker's scheme to lure Batman to Arkham Asylum and trap him inside.

These sites don’t give away anything important about the plots of the games and don't even mention the main characters. Instead, they offer pieces of a puzzle - pieces that on the surface don't seem to make sense but that create a sense of mystery and intrigue.

"Batman: Arkham Asylum" is due Aug. 25, while the release "Bioshock 2" has been delayed til the first half of next year.

A last-minute note on "Batman: Arkham Asylum": The developers say the PC version of the game will be delayed for three weeks, but don’t despair. The game is being tweaked with NVIDIA® PhysX® technology, which will create more realistic objects and environments within the gameplay.

According to the NVIDIA website, your computer will need GeForce 8-series GPUs and later, with a minimum of 32 cores and a minimum of 256MB dedicated graphics memory, to play "Arkham Asylum." So check your specs before you invest in the game.

– Larry Frum

Filed under: video games


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Sony to launch slimmer PS3 with lower price

Posted: 09:32 AM ET

Sony has officially confirmed rumors surrounding the PlayStation 3 game console. In a video posted on the PlayStation Blog SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton announced a new slimmer PS3 will be available September 1st. In addition, all PS3 consoles got a $100 price cut today, dropping the cost to an enticing $299.

Engadget received an early look at the new PlayStation 3 Slim and provides a great hands-on gallery.

Price has always been an obstacle preventing the widespread adoption of the PS3. Just last week Ars Technica criticized the cost of the console:

In many cases, price is the most important factor, and while Blu-ray and wireless may be nice, they're not always enough to convince a parent or grandparent to spend $200 extra dollars in the store. Right now, price is everything, and no checklist will change that.

The secret? Just lower the damn price.

With hot titles such as God of War 3 and Final Fantasy XIII on the horizon and a $100 price cut, the PlayStation 3 may finally be a true competitor in the console wars.

Will a $299 feature-rich PS3 be able to dethrone the value-priced Nintendo Wii ($250) or challenge Microsoft's Xbox 360 Pro ($299)?

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Filed under: consumer tech • Games • Gaming • Microsoft Corp.


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August 18, 2009

Can college sports ban social media?

Posted: 02:54 PM ET

Any baseball fan is familiar with MLB's frequent reminders not to rebroadcast a game without "the express written consent of Major League Baseball." But did you ever consider that your Facebook, Twitter or blog posts could be targeted by overzealous media regulations?

Can the SEC prohibit fans from sharing pictures similar to this iPhone shot of a Braves game I posted to my Facebook profile? Should they even bother trying?

According to current policy, Southeastern Conference (SEC) fans cannot "produce or disseminate (or aid in producing or disseminating) any material or information about the event, including, but not limited to, any account, description, picture, video, audio, reproduction or other information."

Adam Ostrow, of Mashable.com, translates that to mean "no Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TwitPic, or any other service that could in any way compete with authorized media coverage of the event."

The SEC media-credential policy also states that violations may result in "ejection from the Event and prosecution for criminal trespass."

Conference spokesman Charles Bloom told the Charlotte Observer there are plans to loosen the restrictions, but the current policy forbids tweeting from the stands.

While speaking with CNN, Attorney Evan Brown questioned the legality of the SEC policy. Brown equates a ban on social media in state-sponsored schools to a violation of the First Amendment and a form of prior restraint.

Media-coverage rights to sporting events have always been expensive and, consequently, heavily policed (this year the U.S. Open banned all cameras and phones) but can social media possibly be restrained?

Could social media ever compete with authorized media coverage in a way that would threaten profits and rationalize SEC's media policy?

Bloggers Adam Ostrow, Evan Brown and Steve Raquel discussed the SEC policy today on CNN.com Live (Watch Video).

Update:

This afternoon the SEC released a revised version of its media policy (pdf). The revision provides exemptions for noncommercial updates and personal messages.

The new policy reads:

No Bearer may produce or disseminate in any form a “real-time” description or transmission of the Event (i) for commercial or business use, or (ii) in any manner that constitutes, or is intended to provide or is promoted or marketed as, a substitute for radio, television or video coverage of such Event. Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable.

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Filed under: Facebook • Flickr • Internet • iPhone • online news • schools • Twitter


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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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