SciTechBlog
November 30, 2009

Mac-cloner Psystar loses Apple lawsuit

Posted: 12:02 PM ET

Apple has won its copyright-infringement claim against the Mac cloning company Psystar.

Psystar sold PCs that ran Apple's OS X software. The computers functioned essentially the same as standard Macs, but were sold for less than Apple-built machines. Psystar argued that since the OS X software was legally purchased, the right of first sale allowed them to resell the operating system on custom-built computers.

However, the courts sided with Apple (pdf), and agreed that "customers were contractually precluded from utilizing Mac OS X on any computer hardware system that was not an Apple computer system." In addition, Psystar circumvented "lock-and-key technological measures to prevent Mac OS X from operating on non-Apple computers," which violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Groklaw provides analysis of the court order and concludes:

That means damages ahead for Psystar on the copyright issues just decided on summary judgment, at a minimum. The court asked for briefs on that subject. In short, Psystar is toast.

The court's message is clear: EULAs mean what they say; if you don't want to abide by its license, leave Apple's stuff alone.

Psystar, which is also fighting a second infringement case in Florida, will likely appeal the decision, but for now it looks like you Snow Leopard fans will be forced to stick with Apple-approved computers. Or build your own Hackintosh.

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Filed under: Apple • computers • online news • piracy


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November 27, 2009

An e-reader shortage for the holidays?

Posted: 11:03 AM ET

It seemed like this was going to be the holiday shopping season of the e-reader.

But that was before Barnes & Noble told customers it had run short on pre-orders of its new electronic book reader, the Nook. That device was poised to be a big holiday competitor to the more-established Amazon Kindle.

Barnes & Noble says customers who pre-order the Nook now won't get the device until the week of January 4 - after the holiday shopping season. A limited number of the devices will be available for sale in some of the "highest volume" Barnes & Noble stores.

In an e-mail, spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said early sales of the Nook beat the bookseller's expectations.

"We had expected strong interest in Nook and pre-orders have exceeded those expectations. We’re excited to have such a wonderful response from customers," she wrote. Keating did not specify how many Nook readers have been sold.

Customers can pre-order a Nook gift certificate in time for the holidays, according to a B&N blog post.

The Sony Reader, another e-book competitor, also is not guaranteed to ship by the holidays, according to Sony's Web site. "Pre-orders will ship Dec. 18 thru Jan. 8. Actual delivery date cannot be guaranteed," the site says.

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division, tells the NYTimes that the company is being cautious. “We may be able to hit it [the Christmas delivery date]," he told the Times' Bits blog. "I just don’t want to promise someone a gift that arrives after Christmas. We may be giving up sales by saying that, but we are in it for the long haul."

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but the company's Web site says its Kindle device can ship to customers as soon as the day after it's ordered.

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Filed under: Amazon • e-readers • Kindle • Nook • Sony


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November 26, 2009

Happy TweetsGiving

Posted: 12:19 PM ET

For some do-gooders, today isn’t just Thanksgiving. It’s also the second annual TweetsGiving, the culmination of a 48-hour global effort to raise money online for a school in Arusha, Tanzania.

Participants are encouraged to share what they are grateful for – and donate money, of course - through Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and of course, 2009’s new media darling, Twitter.

The project is the brainchild of a U.S. nonprofit called Epic Change. Last November, Epic Change’s efforts raised $11,000 in 48 hours through hundreds of small donations, which the organization used to help build a classroom at the Tanzania school. Epic Change dubbed the students the “Twitter kids of Tanzania” and encouraged users to send tweets to them via their #Twitterkids blog.

This year, Epic Change had hoped to raise $100,000 by midday Thanksgiving to build the school a dormitory, library, cafeteria and more classrooms. As of Thursday at 11 a.m. ET, however, the effort had raised only about $26,000 – a possible victim of the worldwide recession.

If you still want to donate, however, it's not too late.

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Filed under: Twitter


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November 23, 2009

Large Hadron Collider has first collisions

Posted: 04:55 PM ET

Alarmists take note: The planet is intact after particles began smashing into each other at the Large Hadron Collider today.

For the first time, the $10 billion machine circulated two proton beams simultaneously in its 17-mile tunnel underneath the border between France and Switzerland.

This is a major step toward finding the answers to fundamental physics questions about the nature of matter in the universe, and how the world as we know it began.

“The events so far mark the start of the second half of this incredible voyage of discovery of the secrets of nature,” said Tejinder Virdee, spokesperson for the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, in a statement.

The particle collisions are finally happening despite discredited theories that the accelerator could produce a black hole that could swallow the universe, and that it is being sabotaged from the future. Read more about these theories

The project appears to have rebounded from a substantial setback in September 2008. Just nine days after it started up, one of the 25,000 joints that connect magnets in the LHC came loose, and the resulting current melted or burned some important components of the machine, said Steve Myers, director of accelerators at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The collider has drawn thousands of physicists from around the world together in a collaborative search for never-before-seen particles and new properties of nature. These particles include the Higgs boson, which theoretically gives mass to matter.

Today's collisions are relatively low-energy; the next step is to get particles colliding at higher energies than ever before. The accelerator should reach an energy of 1.2 TeV (teraelectronvolts, or a million million electronvolts) per beam by Christmas if all goes well, CERN said.

Read more about the collider going back online.

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Filed under: Large Hadron Collider • Physics


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November 20, 2009

Auto-captions come to YouTube

Posted: 02:09 PM ET

Some of YouTube's videos started featuring machine-generated captions this week. That's a potentially huge change for the deaf and hearing impaired, who still don't have access to the vast majority of online video.

Writing on the Official Google Blog (don't forget, Google owns YouTube), software engineer Ken Harrenstien says voice-to-text technology - while clunky at times - must be used to caption the world's videos. The problem is too large for people to handle alone, writes Harrenstein, who is deaf:

Every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded. How can we expect every video owner to spend the time and effort necessary to add captions to their videos? Even with all of the captioning support already available on YouTube, the majority of user-generated video content online is still inaccessible to people like me.

The YouTube auto-captions use the same speech-to-tech technology as Google Voice.

Check out a video demo here.

Harrenstien says this week's announcement of auto-captions makes him "more hopeful than ever" that Google can achieve its goal of "making videos universally accessible."

NYTimes notes that the captions also stand to make YouTube money:

The technology will also open YouTube videos to a wider foreign market and make them more searchable, which will make it easier for Google to profit from them.

For now, the captions apply only to a handful of YouTube channels, but it will be interesting to watch where this technology goes. The BBC says that, even in Google's demo, the caption technology is not perfect. The phrase "sim card," for instance, was mistaken for "salmon" when it was captioned.

Will this technology help you, or someone you know? Or are you frustrated by machine translations of speech into captioning? Let us know in the comments section.

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Filed under: captioning • Google


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November 19, 2009

Computer viruses leech off 'Twilight' sequel

Posted: 11:13 AM ET

The new "Twilight" vampire movie, due out Friday, is already sinking its teeth into the Web audience.

But searchers beware. Some online downloads for "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and video interviews with cast members may not be what they seem. They could carry computer viruses.

This news comes from a computer security company, PC Tools, which says in a news release that a handful of search terms and links should make fans and would-be movie pirates suspicious. Among the phrases to watch out for: "Watch New Moon Full Movie," "streamviewer," and "Stephenie Meyer at 365Multimedia.com."

Yahoo explains further:

365Multimedia.com doesn't actually host interviews (it's a desktop background and screensaver website), and the link in question doesn't actually go there either. Instead, users are directed to a malicious website that takes that age-old scareware path: A pop-up alerts users that they are infected with some sort of malware, and then directs them to a download site so they can get a phony antivirus software product to remedy the issue.

365Multimedia could not be reached immediately for comment. Visitors to the site aren't at risk of getting their machines infected.

Scammers have been preying in recent years on the online popularity of news events and pop culture. When a topic like "Twilight" gets hot online, virus engineers use popular search terms to get more clicks and thus infect more machines.

Of course, you also could take the "Twilight" virus idea figuratively.

As one of the film's actors, Robert Pattinson, told The Boston Globe, "I don't know how, it [the "Twilight" series]  just explodes so quickly. It takes seven months to take hold – it's like a virus."

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Filed under: pop culture • Security • virus


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November 18, 2009

Unsolved math problem turns 150

Posted: 12:14 PM ET

Happy 150th anniversary to the Riemann Hypothesis, one of the most important math problems ever!

Proposed by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, the Riemann Hypothesis deals with prime numbers. You may recall that a prime number is a positive whole number that has only two positive whole number divisors: one and itself. The first of them are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, in order.

This hypothesis would be able to provide a better estimate than ever before of a special function denoted as Pi(x). Pi(x) represents the number of prime numbers that are no bigger than x, where x is a positive number. For example, Pi(14) would be 6, because there are six prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13) no bigger than 14. That's probably the most understandable explanation you're going to get that doesn't involve "zeta functions" and other technical terms.

Given that many of the best mathematicians have tried and failed to provide a solution, the proof is probably not easy or obvious, says Peter Sarnak, professor of mathematics at Princeton University and an authority on the subject. “Most experts expect that a proof will require a major new insight into the structure of whole numbers and the prime numbers,” he said.

But if you can solve it, the Clay Mathematics Institute will give you $1 million.

A proof would have implications not only for mathematics, but also for cryptography and computer science, says Ramin Takloo-Bighash, associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Internet security protocols, after all, are largely based on prime numbers. Experimental and theoretical evidence has supported the truth of the Riemann Hypothesis, although there are a small number of naysayers who say it can’t be proven, Takloo-Bighash said.

Still, there’s enough confidence in the truth of the Riemann Hypothesis that mathematicians have established “conditional” theorems, which can never be validated until someone proves the 150-year-old problem, says Kenneth Ribet, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Riemann's paper on the subject was first published in November 1859, but no one knows the day. So, the American Institute of Mathematics picked a Wednesday in the middle of November to celebrate the 150th anniversary, said Brian Conrey, executive director.

Intrigued? Stop by one of these lectures today.

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Filed under: Mathematics


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November 17, 2009

Status update: Dude, I'm shredding this video game

Posted: 10:57 AM ET

UPDATE 2:13 p.m. ET: Facebook also will be accessible through the PlayStation 3 after the console's next firmware update. According to a posting on the PlayStation blog, PS3 users will have the option of automatically updating Facebook news feeds with trophy and PlayStation store activity. There is no announced date for the firmware release.

In an effort to blur the line between gaming and social networks, owners of Xbox 360s will have the chance to bash zombies and then post Facebook updates about it without leaving their consoles.

Microsoft announced that several social media and audio/video services can be accessed through the Xbox 360, starting today. The new features will be part of an automatic update, so when users turn on their consoles and the update kicks in, all the features will be ready for use. Most of the services are limited to Gold members, but a few are available to Silver members.

Facebook and Twitter have signed up to allow connectivity through Xbox LIVE directly from the console. All current features of the social networks will be available, and gamers will be able to share their favorite gaming moments (in supported games) with their friends.

In addition to watching movies from Netflix, as part of a previous deal, Xbox users also will be able to stream high-definition video through the Zune media player - coincidentally, also made by Microsoft. The Zune Marketplace, which includes the Zune Video player, is available to Silver members.

Also, as of today Last.fm joins with the new Xbox LIVE music channel, allowing for access to streaming music directly from the Xbox 360. The updated music channel lets users listen to personal recommendations from Last.fm’s dedicated menu on the console’s dashboard.

All Xbox users will be able to check out the new features during a “Free Gold Weekend” Friday, November 20 through Monday, November 23. Silver members will be able to try out everything that comes with Gold membership, including Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • video games


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November 16, 2009

New $100 handheld device only tweets

Posted: 05:21 PM ET

If Twitter has taught the world anything, it is that less is more. Echoing that trend of keeping it simple, here comes TwitterPeek, the first handheld device solely focused on Twitter.

E-mail, music, phone service and text messaging are notably absent on the TwitterPeek. The device does allow for sending an unlimited amount of tweets and direct messages, and comes with a color screen to view Twitpics and access to friends, companies and celebrities' Twitter feeds.

“We have the same philosophy as Twitter,” says Lauren Hahn, an executive at Peek, the company behind the new device. Peek first produced a product that only provided e-mail and text functionality. They like to keep it simple, fun and most importantly, available to the masses.

TwitterPeek has raised questions on how people use Twitter and other devices that fit into pockets. For one, Adam Ostrow, editor in chief of the social-media blog Mashable, is skeptical.

“I think it has limited appeal considering all of the choices for mobile Twitter apps,” Ostrow said. “But for those that have no intention of buying a smartphone and still want to use Twitter on-the-go, it may be an option.”

Further, 60 percent of users only access Twitter via a computer, according to a survey conducted by Crowd Science and eMarketer.com in August 2009. Three percent only use Twitter via mobile devices, while another 38 percent of tweeters use a combination of computer and mobile.

There currently seems to be an escalating competition to cram more social networks, songs, moves, cameras and applications onto a phone. But Peek points to the Flip Camera, PSP, and iPod as evidence people like devices that do one thing only.

The TwitterPeek costs $99.95, including six months of unlimited Twitter service. After that, using the device costs $7.95 per month. Hardcore tweeters may prefer the second option: Paying $199.95 for the device and a lifetime of unlimited Twitter service.

Hahn believes there is a misconception about how many Americans use, and can afford, smartphones. “Everyone seems to have a smartphone, but that not true,” she told CNN. “The vast majority of Americans still hold feature phones (voice and text).”

Hahn believes her target audience is not someone in New York, Washington, D.C. or San Francisco, where smartphones seem as common as traffic jams and people are willing to spend more money on devices that do everything.

“It is the rest of America that cannot afford the massive convergence devices, but still want to follow Lance Armstrong or Oprah on Twitter,” she said.

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Filed under: Twitter


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November 11, 2009

Wi-Fi scale tweets your weight loss (or gain)

Posted: 12:29 PM ET

A new WiFi-enabled scale from Withings encourages users to lose weight by sharing their body weight, lean & fat mass, and calculated body mass index (BMI) on Twitter.

WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.
WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.

Personal metrics have been shown to help people reach their fitness goals. And Wired.com recognizes new devices like the Nike+ can get people moving.

Noone is now running four times a week and just did her first 10-mile race ... And she attributes much of her newfound fitness to the power of data. "I can log in to Nike+ and see what I've done over the past year," she says. "That's really powerful for me."

But will sharing embarrassing weight-fluctuation info help dieters in the same way fitness data has encouraged runners?

A press release from Withings confirms that the scale will not share your information without your consent. "By default, the Twitter feature will not be activated when you purchase your scale ... Only the users that enable this feature will benefit from the online peer motivation."

Engadget is not impressed with the scale's social abilities:

Not only does this bad boy register your weight, body fat, and BMI, but you can now configure it to send your stats to "the Twitter" either daily, weekly, monthly, or each and every time you weigh - and your followers will start dropping faster than even you could imagine.

What do you think? Would you be willing to share your weight-loss struggle with the Twitterverse if it could inspire you to become the next Biggest Loser? Or is this one Fail Whale you would prefer to keep private?

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Filed under: consumer tech • Internet • iPhone • social-networking sites • Twitter


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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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