SciTechBlog
March 31, 2010

YouTube down for some users during relaunch

Posted: 08:47 PM ET

Last week, Wikipedia crashed, panicking college students everywhere.

Now, those of us who turn to the Internet for distraction are being dealt a blow: If you tried to visit YouTube Wednesday evening, chances are good you were served with an error page. This comes a week after another widespread YouTube outage, which Google said was due to a technical issue.

No need to panic. A fancy redesigned YouTube is on its way, according to a post on YouTube's official weblog.

YouTube is changing its video pages to introduce a few new features, including a playlist interface and revamped rating system, which favors a "like/dislike" rating system over a star ranking.

It’s a change eight months in the making, according to Shiva Rajaraman, a senior product manager at YouTube. He says the redesigned page is the result of an increasingly cluttered video page. "We launched more features in 2009 than in past years combined, and the page got very crowded," said Rajaraman.

The change is intended to benefit not only video consumers, but also creators. "Uploaders were starting to complain about an experience that wasn't really apt for their content," said Rajaraman. Uploaders will see an improved upload experience with the new rollout.

But change can be scary, and YouTube realizes that making changes to a site that sees over a billion page views every day can be upsetting. Chris Dale, a YouTube spokesman, says it's evolution that keeps the site relevant. "We have to continue to keep the site fresh, and keep people engaged, and I think as we sort of blaze trails in the world of online video we feel pretty strongly that we want to keep to a fresh set of standards, and keep people used to and engaged in new experiences," he said.

In addition to the new features, the post says the overall look and functionality of the video page will be "cleaner, simpler and easier to use." See for yourself here.

So, relax - you'll be back to watching babies dancing to Beyonce in no time.

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The few, the proud, the "supertaskers"

Posted: 01:16 PM ET

Many studies say people cannot drive as safely while they talk on a mobile phone.

A recent report from the University of Utah doesn't dispute that, but it does suggest that a very small portion of the population - about 2.5 percent of us - fit into a category researchers call "supertaskers."

These outliers are able to do two things at once - talk on the phone and drive, for instance - without their performance declining for either task.

"Our results suggest that there are supertaskers in our midst: rare but intriguing individuals with extraordinary multi-tasking ability," psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer write in the report, titled "Supertaskers."

"These individual differences are important because they challenge current theory that postulates immutable bottlenecks in dual-task performance."

To get the results, the psychologists put 200 people in a driving simulator and tested their ability to react to traffic and braking cars while solving math problems and word games on a hands-free mobile phone.

Before you begin insisting that you, too, are a "supertasker" who can juggle multiple phone texts while eating, combing your hair and hurtling down the highway at 65 mph, heed this warning from the authors:

"Some readers may also be wondering if they too are supertaskers; however, we suggest that the odds of this are against them," they write.

While many people consider themselves adept multi-taskers, many psychological tests show that people do not function as well when their attention is split. However, in the future, as technology makes "supertasking" a more beneficial trait, people may be able to rewire their brains to be up to the challenge, they write.

The authors also reference several distracted driving reports, including one estimate from the National Safety Council that says 28 percent of all car crashes in the U.S. are caused by people who are using cell phones to talk or text.

[via NYTimes Bits blog]

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Filed under: distracted driving • mobile phones • multi-tasking • texting


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Pigs DO fly – in a tornado simulator

Posted: 01:04 PM ET

Tornado simulators are a staple of science classes and science museums.

Want to see cyclonic action at work? Fill a two-liter bottle with water, connect it to another at its mouth, give it a swirl and watch the water power into the lower bottle . Science museums often have more elaborate forms of this showcase, creating a “tornado” out of air or water vapor at the push of a button.

Now the Weather Channel is getting into the act – virtually.

On its Into the Tornado page – meant to promote next week’s “Tornado Week,” naturally – users have the opportunity to watch a tornado do its thing. You can click on a car, a train, a pickup truck or a pig – among several choices – set the power of the tornado and then the point of view.

One thing’s for sure: It’s bad enough watching what happens to a train or car in an F5 tornado, but you definitely don’t want to be a pig. In an example, a porker gets hurled almost 400 feet in the air and ends up 167 feet from its starting point. As the accompanying text warns, “Tornadoes will rip through farms turning our porcine friends into dangerous pink missiles.” (Keep your Beavis and Butt-head jokes to yourself.)

There are no cows available, but if you’re looking for that, you can always rent “Twister” again.

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Filed under: Tornadoes • Weather


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CNN.com's 'Walk in Our Shoes' project continues

Posted: 10:56 AM ET

As mobile phones and video cameras get cheaper and more ubiquitous, it’s becoming easier for people all over the world to tell their stories. Think about recent events in Haiti, Iran and China.

This trend was part of the inspiration for a recent CNN iReport assignment called “A Walk in Our Shoes,” in which CNN.com asked its readers to film one-minute videos of their favorite places to walk.

We received more than 470 submissions, from six continents. And that doesn't include one late submission from Antarctica, which is definitely worth a look.

CNN stitched many of those videos into a collective walk around the world.

Check out that video here:

The project follows in the footsteps of many other online collaborative art projects, like the Eternal Moonwalk, “Star Wars" Uncut and inbflat.net.

And it’s not finished just yet.

All of the videos submitted as part of “A Walk in Our Shoes” are available for download, and CNN is asking people to edit their own mashups. Never been to Africa? You could click on the “walk_africa” tag and find all of the submissions from that continent, including a stroll through central Madagascar and a bus stop in Swaziland.

Download the ones you like, edit your own walk, and then submit it to this iReport page.

Here are some of our favorite tags you could play with:

Walk with a friend (walk_4_feet)
Walk with a narrator (walk_walkie_talkie)
Walk with a purpose (walk_advocate)
Walk a bridge (walk_bridges)
Walk in Converse shoes (walk_chucks)
Walk without shoes (walk_barefoot)
Walk a mountain (walk_mountains)
Walk on a beach (walk_beaches)
Walk with a shadow (walk_shadow)
Walk past a famous landmark (walk_landmarks)
Ride a bike or ski down a hill (walk_alt_mode)
Take a religious walk (walk_churches)
Take a stroll through the burbs (walk_suburb)
Hike a trail (walk_trails)
Check out some cool plants (walk_flora)
Or beware of animals (walk_fauna)
Walk in the snow (walk_snow)
Walk through Asia (walk_asia)
Walk through Africa (walk_africa)
Walk through North America (walk_north_america)
Walk through South America (walk_south_america)
Walk through Australia (walk_australia)
Walk through Europe (walk_europe)

Also, we're sharing all of the data we collected about these walks on this public Google Doc. Some useful tidbits from the spreadsheet that could help you with editing: We asked people to use one word to describe their walks; what the temperature was; what time the video was filmed; and exactly where they were shot.

Let us know if you have questions about the project. Thanks so much for participating, and happy editing!

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Filed under: iReport • mobile phones


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March 30, 2010

Geek Out!: Thoughts on PAX East – a gamer's dream

Posted: 04:05 PM ET

Everyone remembers the first time.

Whether it’s the first time you drove a car or the first time you kissed a girl, it was probably important.

That was how it felt at the first East Coast Penny Arcade Expo or as it’s better known, PAX East, which wrapped up Sunday. The annual west-coast gathering of gamers, started in 2004, had become so popular that, finally, it made the jump across the country country.

For gamers, this was an important event - not just because we got to go out with our "geek flags" flying high, but also because we felt the camaraderie and shared love of gaming that we can't always find without an Internet connection.

The Hynes Convention Center in Boston was packed with people carrying gaming PCs, consoles, and even pouches full of dice. No style of gaming or gamer was excluded. Everyone was accepted and most likely, found a ton of people that were into the same type of games.

It was definitely the place where you got to pick your poison. If you were into "Dungeons & Dragons" there was a room for you. If you wanted to play "Magic: The Gathering," not only were there rooms filled with people eagerly shuffling their decks, but games spilled out into the halls.

Retro arcade gaming was represented in full force, taking everyone back to the quarter-hoarding mindset or our youth - or, for younger gamers, of legend.

There were even rooms set up with dozens of PS3s, Xbox 360s, and Nintendo Wiis ready for action. All you needed was a game and the courage to play it in front of other people.

Once you were done getting your butt kicked by a 13 year-old, there were plenty of panels discussing new trends in gaming and the evolution of today’s games.

Actor, blogger and geek superstar Wil Wheaton kicked off the convention with a keynote address about growing up as a gamer and how relationships forged in the crucible of imagination have become some of his strongest friendships.

Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the founders of PAX and creators of the "Penny Arcade" webcomic, took questions from the audience and even showed people how they make a strip.

No gaming topic was overlooked. Panels discussed every aspect of the gaming community, from game development, criticism, marketing and even creation. New games were demoed, "Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands" and "Split Second" were playable and they haven’t been released yet.

This convention was a gamer's dream.

Back in 2004, when Holkins and Krahulik started the convention in Washington, they wanted to bring gamers together. And they've succeeded.

If the reaction in Boston is any indication of the future, Mike Krahulik may get his wish of one day starting a Euro PAX.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Geek Out! • pop culture • Uncategorized


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Chatroulette isn't going away - at least not yet

Posted: 01:10 PM ET

Chatroulette - a Web site that pairs-up strangers for live video chats - became a cult hit with blogs, magazines and news sites in January and February.

Some lauded the site's randomness. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Chatroulette reaches across social networks, often setting users up with people on the other side of the globe.

But what's happened since that initial buzz? Is Chatroulette just a fad, or will it stick around? Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Chatroulette • Internet • social-networking sites


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Report: New iPhone to be on non-AT&T networks

Posted: 09:40 AM ET


Apple plans to release a new iPhone this year that could operate using Verizon, Sprint and some smaller carriers, according to a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday.

The move, if it happens, would be a big shift from the current iPhone, which only works in the U.S. with AT&T - a sore point for some users.

The paper cited "people briefed by the company." Spokespeople for Apple, Verizon and Vodaphone Group, an international carrier, refused to comment, according to the Journal.

An AT&T spokesman said there has been lots of incorrect speculation about an iPhone that runs CDMA, a wireless network used by Verizon, Sprint and others.

"We haven't seen one yet and only Apple knows when that might occur," the spokesman told the paper.

Apple did not immediately return a message from CNN.com Tuesday seeking comment.

Apple has had an exclusive relationship with AT&T in the United States since 2007.

The unnamed sources also told the Journal what's considered an open secret in tech circles - that Apple will separately release a new version of its current iPhone this summer. The new phone will be thinner and have a faster processor, two souces reportedly told the Journal.

Speculation that Apple would expand the iPhone to other wireless carriers has abounded for months. Many reports, citing Apple sources, have said such a move was coming.

But the Journal report sent Apple stock soaring Tuesday morning. The stock, which already closed at a record $232.39, jumped as much as 6.41 points (2.75 percent) in after-hours trading.

One source said the non-AT&T iPhones will begin production in September, while others said the schedule is still up in the air.

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Filed under: iPhone • smartphones


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March 29, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Penny Arcade' writers on geekdom and games

Posted: 11:44 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

PAX East, the Penny Arcade Expo, was the geek buzz this weekend as gaming fans flocked to the event in Boston, Massachusetts. Wil Wheaton of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was a guest speaker. Before the convention, I chatted with Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the writers of the Web comic Penny Arcade, who started it all. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

What do you want people to get out of your convention?

Jerry: We want them to derive nourishment. Nourishment for the geek soul and the enduring sensation that they are not alone.

Do you think that geeks today are more accepted than before?

Jerry: Even if it were true, I would resist it. I don’t want to be accepted. I want to retain my street credentials. There are lots of geeks, and certainly geeks can communicate with one another, but ... do we have an openly geek Senator? Is there a Senator that can speak fluently about Daleks? Maybe not.

I would say that Michael and I are being beat up less. It hasn’t completely abated. It still happens on occasion. But I would say that… the beatings are less severe.

What do you think is the difference between a nerd and a geek?

Jerry: I think being a geek is cool… A geek has an ownership of their geek nature.

And nerds?

Jerry: They don't. It’s my hope that my nerds become geeks via a natural process, that they learn that their inherent nature isn’t something they need to feel ashamed of. I feel like 'nerd' is the epithet, and 'geek' is the inside term.

Mike: Is that like what's written on a tombstone?

Jerry: Mhm. Here lies, you know, Nerd.

How do you geek out?

Jerry: We geek out constantly. I'm geeking out right now. I'm talking to CNN.

Mike: I tend to geek out about gadgets. Pretty much any new gadget that comes out, I get excited for, mostly because I like taking them out of the box, peeling that layer of transparent film off of them ... .

Jerry: The thing that I geek out about most is that specialized cultures, just by necessity, need to develop a lot of customized language. Because Penny Arcade is read by a broad spectrum of people, one of the things that we can do is create bits of useful language and I like to track those words and see if they end up with a happy, healthy life. Like, if they make their way into actual conversation and are used as a tool.

"Bull shot" was a good example that Mike came up with. It's often the case that a case screen shot from a game - obviously screen shots are part of the marketing engine that promotes this medium - but sometimes these shots are obviously fraudulent. Most recently it was with Final Fantasy 13 on the [XBox] 360. There were just some shots that were untrue... The term "bull shot," which we had put in the strip a couple years ago, was leveraged, even today in 2010 to describe that - which, for us, is pretty exciting.

How did you meet and start making comics?

Jerry: We met in journalism class originally and we did a small comic in the paper for Mead High School in Spokane. Through the course of human events, we ended up working on comics there in the apartment. [E]ventually we entered a contest to create comics for a Web site called Next Generation Online, which was connected to a magazine back then. Very prestigious. We failed in that task. We did not win that contest. [But] we had an ample selection of comics, and we found a place to run them.

How did you go from writing comics to selling books to making your own video games to hosting your convention?

Jerry: We tried to make the right decision at each juncture. If there was an opportunity to get books out through Dark Horse or Random House, if there was an opportunity to make a game or make a show or put together a charity, we just tried to make it as good as we could each time. It was a pretty organic process.

How would you describe what Penny Arcade is?

Jerry: It's essentially like a political cartoon for the gaming industry. We essentially catalog gamer culture and pop culture in a thrice-weekly comic strip.

How would you say that it evolved since 1998?

Jerry: We have changed a lot. Essentially the strip – it's about games because that's what we like. But more than that essentially, the strip is about us, it's sort of like a diary in that respect. It's changed along with us... Occasionally, we'll discuss the kids we've had in the interim period, or things like that. We've touched on some more dad issues, and some things that are maybe of a more enduring nature than the releases that week.


Did you think that your franchise would be become so big?

Jerry: One always has the best hopes for their children, but no. It’s a perpetual surprise

What is your favorite video game of all time and why?

Jerry: There have been a lot of games that I’ve played in recent memory that are sort of standing tall. Mass Effect 2 just came out, and we've all in the office played through that, and that had a pretty profound effect on all of us...The original Wasteland on the Commodore 64... that was the first game I ever bought with my own money, so for me, I earned every second of that experience so I was very aware of it. But I really liked the first Shenmue as well on the Dreamcast.

Mike: My favorite video game is probably Kingdom Hearts II, but I also have to go with Jerry and say that Mass Effect 2 is pretty amazing.

How did you come up with the alter egos Gabe and Tycho?

Jerry: We didn't have to work very hard. Gabe and Tycho were our handles... The name that you choose when you play a game in multiplayer or single player, it's just sort of these personas there. Personality wise, the characters in the strip are just sort of exaggerations of our worst qualities.

How did you meet Wil Wheaton and start inviting him to PAX?

Jerry: He's our friend. We had met him at multiple conventions; he often found his way down to San Diego and we had met him there one year and really hit it off. And so when the time came to move PAX from Bellevue, where it started out, into the Washington State Convention Center, a pretty momentous move… we really wanted to identify that shift, that motion into a world-class show, and we thought that Wil would be a good voice for that. We were not wrong; he delivered a really great keynote that year.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Geek Out!


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1,100 communities beg for Google broadband

Posted: 10:29 AM ET

The mayor of Sarasota, Florida, swam with sharks. Topeka, Kansas, temporarily changed its name to Google, Kansas. And in Duluth, Minnesota, the head of city government jumped into a frigid lake with ice chunks floating on the surface.

Why? To beg Google for better broadband.

More than 1,100 cities and towns have asked Google to speed up their Internet connections as part of the company's "Google Fiber" project. The search-engine giant says it will build the infrastructure for affordable, ultra-high-speed Internet connections in one or more communities, with the hopes of serving 50,000 to 500,000 people. Google plans to choose the winning community or communities by the end of the year.

The Mountain View, California-based company thanked mayors across the country for submitting "tremendous and creative" requests that the experimental network be build in their cities.

"We're thrilled to see this kind of excitement, and we want to humbly thank each and every community and individual for taking the time to participate," project manager James Kelly wrote on Google's blog.

"This enthusiasm is much bigger than Google and our experimental network. If one message has come through loud and clear, it's this: people across the country are hungry for better and faster Internet access."

Google says its connection will be hundreds of times faster than average Internet speeds in the U.S. today - with data transfer rates of 1 gigabit per second. Google hopes to accomplish that speed by bringing fiber optic cables straight to peoples' homes.

The country's average broadband speed ranked 18th in the world in a recent report from Internet monitor Akamai. South Korea was the world leader. Iceland, Latvia and Slovakia both had connection speeds faster than those in the U.S.

In addition to the 1,100 official requests from communities, more than 194,000 individuals wrote Google asking the company to install faster connections in their areas.

This all comes as the U.S. federal government debates a plan to speed up Internet connections across the country, and to make the Web more accessible to Americans.

What do you think makes Google's fiber-to-the-home project so popular with mayors? Would you jump in a near-frozen lake for better broadband? Let us know with a comment on this post.

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Filed under: broadband • Google • Internet


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March 26, 2010

Geek Out!: Wheaton wows gamers

Posted: 05:21 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

"I was a weird kid," Wil Wheaton told the masses of excited, hardcore gamers at the Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX) Friday afternoon in Boston, Massachusetts.

While some kids were playing football, Wheaton said, he was delving deep into the world of fantasy gaming. The former "Star Trek: The Next Generation" actor turned geek icon gave the keynote address at the annual festival, which welcomes console, computer and tabletop gamers alike.

Wheaton's speech came from the heart, from someone for whom gaming has been a major part of his life - something he described as the foundation of some of the best friendships he's ever had.

"This small red box [of Dungeons and Dragons handbooks] was the first step onto the path that led me right here," he said. "In the '80s, I didn't have the Internet to tell me that carrying around character sheets and 'D&D' books wasn't weird."

Wheaton said the advancement of gaming platforms has been a hallmark of his generation. "In my lifetime I have had a front row seat as games have gone from Pitfall! to Portal," he said.

He said that he realizes how special games have been to his generation, because when he tells his children about gaming, they aren't nearly as interested as he would hope.

He had harsh, and off-color, words for "elitists" who criticize games like "Rock Band" because they're not the same as playing a real instrument.

He went on to say, "When we play 'Rock Band' we are creating a world where we get to be the rockstars we can never be."

This was the second time Wheaton has spoken here. He said he loves the festival so much that he separates his life into two columns: "pre-PAX and post-PAX."

[CNN's Henry Hanks in Atlanta contributed to this post.]

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Filed under: Geek Out! • pop culture • video games


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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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