August 18, 2009

Will the Big Crunch follow the Big Bang?

Posted: 08:57 AM ET

The Big Crunch may sound like a slogan for crackers or potato chips, but it’s actually an astronomical theory with a gloomy twist.

We’ve all heard of the Big Bang, a widely accepted theory that proposes the entire universe began from a single point about 13.7 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since.

But will it expand forever? Or could it stop and reverse that process?

One possible fate of the universe is the Big Crunch, the idea that the cosmos could one day begin contracting and eventually collapse back on itself or return to a single point.

If it ever happens, this anti-Big Bang would take place so far in the future that Earth might even not exist anymore, according to experts writing for Cornell University’s Curious About Astronomy Web site.

But the experts also took a stab at what a contracting universe could look like to an observer billions of years into the future.

“As the present-day observable universe started to get really small, the observer would most likely see some of the things that happened in the early universe happen in reverse. Most notably, the temperature of the universe would eventually get so high that you could no longer have stable atoms, in which case the hypothetical observer wouldn't be able to hold himself together.”

Yikes. But fear not. It turns the expansion of the universe has been accelerating rather than slowing.

Astronomers believe that’s caused by a mysterious dark energy pulling galaxies apart, according to NASA.

“Dark energy is this idea that not only is the universe expanding, dark energy is actually making that expansion happen even faster,” said Marla Geha, as assistant professor of astronomy at Yale University. “The dark energy will actually continue the expansion of the universe forever, so there probably will not be a Big Crunch if we have the numbers right.”

But the continuous expansion would have other consequences. Over tens of billions of years, the galaxies that we see around us would get farther and farther away, making the universe more of a lonely place, Geha said.

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Filed under: Astronomy • NASA • Space

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August 17, 2009

Study: 40 percent of Twitter is babble

Posted: 09:21 AM ET

These findings may disturb some of you hard-core social networkers: A market research firm says 40 percent of tweets are "pointless babble."

Pear Analytics analyzed random tweets over a two-week period and used that data to funnel the posts into six categories. More on the process:

So we took 2,000 tweets from the public timeline (in English and in the US) over a 2-week period from 11:00a to 5:00p (CST) and captured tweets in half-hour increments. Then we categorized them into 6 buckets:

News, Spam, Self-Promotion, Pointless Babble, Conversational and Pass-Along Value.

"Conversational" tweets came in second place and made up nearly 38 percent of the posts analyzed. Researchers say they went into the project thinking that Twitter was mostly used for self-promotion.

The firm concludes that, because of all of the babble, people who still want to use Twitter need some way to filter out irrelevant information. It seems like it's easier to me just to follow people who you trust and who you find interesting.  More from the report:

With the new face of Twitter, it will be interesting to see if they take a heavier role in news, or continue to be a source for people to share their current activities that have little to do with everyone else.  We will be conducting this same study every quarter to identify other trends in usage.

Since Twitter is still loaded with lots of babbling that not many of have time for, you should check out the Twitter filter, Philtro.  These guys can not only help you filter the noise, but will also be allowing you to store the tweets you are most interested in real soon.

Here's another report on the state of Twitter, visualized by Gizmodo. The blog has a nice chart of what Twitter would look like if there were only 100 Twitter users in the world (The blog got its data from an upcoming book, "Visualized, the Information Atlas," by David McCandless). Half are classified as "lazy," meaning they haven't posted in the last week. Only 5 percent of users have more than 100 followers, according to the analysis.

What do you all think? Is Twitter overrun with babble? I've sensed a lot of why-is-CNN-so-obsessed-with-Twitter? heat in the comments lately, so I'd love to know what you all think about this!

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Filed under: Twitter

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August 14, 2009

Tech Torture with Topher: Wrap-up

Posted: 05:24 PM ET

Editor’s note: This is the latest in’s ongoing “Tech Torture With Topher” video-blog series, in which we “torture” staffer Topher Kohan by depriving him of a technological convenience for a week to see how he copes with it. This week, Topher is trying to conduct all his digital business only on his smartphone while traveling for work.

Hello all!

Well, after a week of conducting all my work only from my iPhone - except for that one e-mail problem, which required the services of my laptop - I believe this thing could work.

As I say on the video, if you plan ahead of time you can go to a conference and work just fine with only a smartphone. The next time I travel I might still take my laptop, but I will definitely leave it in the room when I go to meetings and out and about.

So that's it for this edition of Tech Torture with Topher. Thanks for reading, watching and commenting. I'm looking for ideas for next month's TTWT - a non-iPhone-related torture, please! - so feel free to drop a comment on this post with any suggestions you might have.

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Filed under: Tech Torture with Topher

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Microsoft backs IE 6, and other Friday news

Posted: 11:28 AM ET

Here's a round up of a few tech stories you should know about before heading into the weekend.

Microsoft: A group of Web developers is out to kill Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 Web browser. But, according to the BBC, the software giant is standing behind the product - in part because it has to keep the browser going for corporate customers:

"Friends do not let friends use IE6," Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer, told the network.

"If you are in my social set and I have been to your house for dinner, you are not using IE6," she said. "But it is much more complicated when you move into a business setting."

"It's hard to be cavalier in this economy and say 'oh it's been around for so long they need to upgrade,'" Ms. Barzdukas told journalists in San Francisco.

RockMelt: Tech blogs are abuzz this morning with news of a new browser called RockMelt, which has the support of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. That gives it a hefty bit of street cred in the tech community. Andreessen tells the New York Times that browsers are somewhat behind the times:

“There are all kinds of things that you would do differently if you are building a browser from scratch,” Mr. Andreessen said.

RockMelt is rumored to work with Facebook, which is something the blog Mashable finds particularly interesting.

eBooks: Sony has announced that its e-readers soon will accept books published in an open format called ePub. GigaOm heralds the move as good for consumers. It stands in contrast to Amazon's apparent desire to keep its e-books on its Kindle reader,although there are worries Sony's format won't be completely open. More from GigaOm:

Amazon’s e-book ambitions go beyond simply selling a lot of Kindle devices. Taking a page from Apple’s iTunes playbook, its goal is to establish Kindle as the dominant e-book publishing and distribution platform. And as Apple has amply demonstrated, when you control the platform, you control the value chain, which means you reap a disproportionate share of the value that’s exchanged.

Twitter: Time to give that left index finger a rest. If you're sick of typing "RT" in front of all those tweets you republish on your feed, then you'll like this news from Twitter's blog: The micro-blogging site is adding a "re-tweet" feature. Expect it to launch in a few weeks.

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Filed under: books • browsers • Microsoft Corp. • Twitter

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Are Redbox DVD rentals too cheap?

Posted: 10:15 AM ET

Redbox operates DVD rental kiosks at over 15,000 retail locations across the country. The automated self-service systems hold over 600 DVDs and allow customers to pick up movies for only $1 per day.

The kiosks are gaining popularity, but their price and ease of use aren't winning over everyone. 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios have ordered wholesalers not to sell newly released DVDs to the rental company.

In a conference call with the Los Angeles Times, News Corp COO Chase Carey criticized the low-priced kiosks. "Having our [movies] rented at $1 in the rental window is grossly undervaluing our products," Carey said. "We are actively determining how to deal with it."

Unlike Blockbuster and Netflix, Redbox does not share profits from rentals with the major movie studios. But why should they?

The rental kiosks do not violate copyright law since they legally purchase the DVDs, and any form of unnecessary profit-sharing would certainly raise prices for consumers.

Upset by Redbox's success, Fox and Universal are leaning on wholesalers who distribute their DVDs to cut ties with the rental company. Redbox has responded by suing the studios for anti-competitive practices and abusing copyright law.

According to Ars Technica:

Redbox said that "Fox seeks to strangle" the low-priced rental market in order to maintain its own "artificially high" pricing scheme.

Meanwhile, Redbox plans to continue offering new releases from all studios, even if it means employees have to buy the DVDs at retail price the old-fashioned way.

Do you think the criticism of Redbox's pricing is justified? Should Redbox share profits with the major movie studios in exchange for new releases, or should the company remain independent?

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Filed under: Movies • technology

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August 13, 2009

Tech Torture with Topher, Day 4

Posted: 02:20 PM ET

Editor’s note: This is the latest in’s ongoing “Tech Torture With Topher” video-blog series, in which we “torture” staffer Topher Kohan by depriving him of a technological convenience for a week to see how he copes with it. This week, Topher is trying to conduct all his digital business only on his smartphone while traveling for work.

Hi all! Here's a quick update for Day 4.

I had a good day yesterday with just my iPhone, although I had to cheat and use my laptop to get an e-mail that was too old to appear on my phone, which only displays my most recent 200 e-mails. I believe this is an iPhone-specific issue. I also know that if I organized my mail better, this would not be a problem.

Besides that, I am working just fine on the phone.

What do you think? Is this a way you would travel? Would it work for business, or just for personal trips? Drop us a comment and let us know.

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Filed under: Tech Torture with Topher

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August 12, 2009

Tech Torture with Topher, Day 3

Posted: 04:48 PM ET

Editor’s note: This is the latest in’s ongoing “Tech Torture With Topher” video-blog series, in which we “torture” staffer Topher Kohan by depriving him of a technological convenience for a week to see how he copes with it. This week, Topher is trying to conduct all his digital business only on his smartphone while traveling for work.

Hello all! I'm in San Jose, California, on business and getting ready for Day 3 of TTWT on the road.

So far, working only from my iPhone has been easier than I thought it would be. That said, it does have some issues: A really bad battery life, and no way to recharge or change the battery when I'm away from my hotel room or don't have my bag with me. Yes, my battery died, leaving me cut off from all digital communication.

Also, you can't view Flash sites on an iPhone, and that has caused some problems for me. I also don't recommend trying to view Excel spreadsheets on an iPhone.

But, all and all, it hasn't been that painful - yet.

For more details, check out the video. Thanks for reading, and watching, and please drop a comment below and let us know what you think of this week's "torture" experiment.

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Filed under: Tech Torture with Topher

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Google testing new Caffeine search engine

Posted: 11:18 AM ET

Google has announced it is testing a new form of search architecture codenamed "Caffeine," and the company wants your help to examine the results.

According to a post on the Google Webmaster Blog:

For the last several months, a large team of Googlers has been working on a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google's web search. It's the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.

Google's current search infrastructure relies primarily on hyperlinks. Pages that receive a large number of incoming links from external sites are given a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear near the top of Google's search results.

Google is unlikely to stray far from its successful PageRank system, but the possibility of new search results is a huge deal to companies that rely on Google-generated traffic or those who have invested heavily in search engine optimization (SEO).

Business Week claims "Caffeine may cause corporate jitters:"

Google suggested that Caffeine could change search results, which raises the prospect of companies' needing to change their search engine optimization (SEO) to protect their Google ranking.

To test Caffeine for yourself, visit:

Google admits "most users won't notice a difference in search results," but the company is still looking for "feedback on the differences between Google's current search results and our new system."

Did you notice any substantial differences in your searches with Caffeine? Were they more accurate than Google's current results?

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Filed under: Google • Internet • Mathematics • online news

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New video game release

Posted: 08:51 AM ET

The classic football game returns with more helmet to helmet combat. CNN's David Daniel has a look at Madden NFL 10 in today's Gameplay:

Filed under: video games

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August 11, 2009

Perseid meteor shower to peak tonight

Posted: 04:41 PM ET

Attention stargazers: If you don't mind getting up early (or staying up late) and can get to a rural area without a lot of lights, the skies should put on a show Wednesday about 4 a.m. ET.

Last August's Perseid meteor shower as seen over Bulgaria.

That's when the annual Perseid meteor shower should reach its peak over the east coast of North America, according to The Perseids appear to come from the constellation Perseus but are actually bits of debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, which has been orbiting the sun for centuries. The Earth passes through these streams of shooting stars every August.

Astronomers expect up to 200 meteors per hour, although many of the fainter fireballs will not be visible due to moonlight. And of course, clouds or bad weather could render them not visible at all.

If you're lucky enough to witness the Perseids and want to share what you saw, astronomers from the United Kingdom are organizing what they claim to be the world's first mass-participation meteor star party.

The Newbury Astronomical Society is leading a global network of stargazers who will post real-time images of the Perseids on - what else? - Twitter (#meteorwatch). Good luck.

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Filed under: Astronomy

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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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