SciTechBlog
February 16, 2010

Hotmail back up after Tuesday outage

Posted: 06:03 PM ET

Access to Hotmail and several other Microsoft services was restored Tuesday afternoon after a server outage made it impossible for many users to sign in and access their e-mail.

The Windows Live ID service, which includes the free Hotmail service, instant messaging and new Xbox Live accounts, went down at about 12:30 p.m. ET, according to a Microsoft statement.

The problem was fixed in about an hour, Microsoft said, although customers were locked out for a while afterward.

Arthur De Haan, a Windows Live spokesman, said a server failed, increasing the load on other servers. A new server was brought into rotation, but it took a while to resolve the logjam of attempted sign-ins and to redistribute that load among the working servers, he said.

“As with all incidents like this, we will fully investigate the cause and will take steps to prevent this from happening again,” De Haan wrote on the official Inside Windows Live blog. “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you, our customers and partners.”

Hotmail is one of the two most popular e-mail services in the world, along with Yahoo! Google’s Gmail is third.

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Filed under: computers • consumer tech • e-mail • Microsoft Corp. • technology


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February 12, 2010

Author: Web is among world's 'destructive' technologies

Posted: 03:58 PM ET

In the face of constant news about how the Internet connects people and empowers them, Sam Harris provided an interesting and contrarian perspective here at the brainy TED Conference in Long Beach, California.

The eternal skeptic and author of "The End of Faith" responded in this way when I asked him what the most destructive technology on the planet is:

"Increasingly the Internet itself, given our reliance on it, is a source of destructive technology. I think we really have to worry about cyber terrorism and cyber crime increasingly. But there's obviously nuclear proliferation and bio-weapons and chemical weapons."

But the Web isn't completely bad, he said:

"I think it's had two diametrically opposed effects. One effect has been really good. It's created transformation and empowered people and allowed us to debunk bad ideas in a very ... decisive way. It's almost created a cognitive immune system for the planet."

He continued: "It's also empowered pranks and pseudoscience and bad information because every person on the Internet can sort of find the people like them and everyone can find an audience so there are certain forms of ignorance that would more or less be unthinkable without the Internet. Global jihad has been massively empowered by the Internet. Even things like the 911 truth conspiracy. That, to my mind, is an Internet phenomenon. No one would publish those books. This is something that is born of Web sites and Internet commentary."

It's yet to be seen whether technology's overall effect on humanity has been good or bad, he said.

"The final chapter is not written on that. It's made it much better and yet it's given us the power to make it worse. It's conceivable that if we fail to build a truly viable global civilization we could use technology to immiserate ourselves more deeply than we would have had we not invented the technology."

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Filed under: Internet • technology • TED2010


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February 4, 2010

Discovering the 'Doppelganger' meme on Facebook

Posted: 04:18 PM ET

I’ve rarely felt more confused than last night when I signed on Facebook and saw Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Heather Graham’s pictures on my News Feed.

It took me a minute to realize I hadn't suddenly become part of a celebrity social circle - my friends simply had changed their profile pictures to those of celebrities.

But I still didn't know exactly what was going on until I did some searching.

As it turns out, it's "Doppelganger Week," the latest cultural meme to take Facebook by storm, and it has a number of people switching their profile pictures to celebrity lookalikes. After climbing out of the metaphorical hole I had been hiding in the last few weeks, I realized the immeasurable extent of Doppelganger Week’s popularity.

Justin Smith, the editor of Inside Facebook, assured me I’m not alone in my delayed discovery.

“No official dates are associated with [Doppelganger Week], he said. “As more people discover it, it will continue to grow. There are 350 million people on Facbeook. It could be a while, not necessarily just a couple more days.”

This is by no means the first cultural trend on Facebook. Masses of women have posted the color of their bras on Facebook in honor of breast cancer awareness. And others have made status updates out of the Urban Dictionary definitions of their first names.

Smith said Doppelganger can make for some funny social interactions:

“There was one awkward interaction where someone commented, ‘Wow you’re looking great theses days,’ not knowing (the picture) was a celebrity. But this is to be expected. People are still discovering it,” he said.

Despite the trend’s many followers, CNET isn’t jumping on “Doppelganger Week” bandwagon. The site says the celebrity alter-ego photos could violate Facebook’s Terms of Service.

Facebook asks its users not to post photos they don't have the rights to.

In an e-mail to CNN.com, Facebook spokeswoman Kathleen Loughlin said the issue hasn't come up yet:

Users are responsible for the content they post, but as always, Facebook will respond to requests for removal that it receives from copyright holders. In this case, we have received no such requests.

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Filed under: Facebook • technology


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January 4, 2010

@CNNTech is now on Twitter

Posted: 06:34 PM ET

Hey there Internet! Just like Shaq, Ellen, Britney and the gang, CNN's technology team is now on Twitter.

What could this glorious new Twitter feed be named, you ask?

Well, we decided to be really zany. We named it @CNNTech!

Luckily, this new feed comes just in time for our coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, Nevada. Look for updates from CNN writers and producers like John D. Sutter, Brandon Griggs and Valerie Streit, who will find all of the latest and greatest gadgets from the oversize tech show.

It won't stop at CES. We'll keep posting our latest tech stories, cool tech links and observations. Will Google announce a new phone on Tuesday? Check back at our site - http://www.cnn.com/tech - and on our Twitter feed to find out.

Follow us if you like, and let us know what you think! Twitter's all about the conversation, so feel free to join ours.

–The CNN Tech Team

Filed under: technology • Twitter


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October 28, 2009

A world without Net neutrality?

Posted: 06:34 PM ET
*click to view full chart

Net neutrality is a complex issue, but this user-generated chart posted on Reddit does a great example of illustrating a worst-case scenario.

The chart envisions a future without Net neutrality, where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are allowed to adopt pricing models similar to cable television. Consumers pay subscription fees for individual slices of the internet that ISPs package into tiered pricing plans.

This pricing model is a far cry from the freedom most ISPs currently offer. Rather than charging for individual Web sites you probably purchase a "dumb pipe" of information from your ISP, and are free to use this data however you wish. But Net neutrality supporters claim without strong neutrality regulation ISPs could change their behavior and consumers will suffer.

Do you believe Net neutrality regulation is required to prevent this chart from becoming a reality or is free-market competition enough to ensure consumers' best interests?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • online news • technology


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October 21, 2009

Apple's new multi-touch Magic Mouse

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

Riding the wave of new Apple products announced yesterday is a new gesture-based, multi-touch mouse.

The Magic Mouse continues Apple's war on buttons by removing all those pesky clickers. What's left is an aluminum base topped by a smooth white touch-sensitive polycarbonate panel.

Apple was criticized for the single button hamburger shaped mouse that shipped with the original iMac. Many Mac and PC users favor the greater control that a dual-button mouse with scroll wheel provides. In response, Apple released the Mighty Mouse in 2006 that incorporates four functional buttons and a trackball.

The new button-free Magic Mouse signals a return to minimalism while including all the functionality of multiple buttons. Gizmodo thinks it's a welcome change:

The Magic Mouse is undoubtedly the best mouse Apple's made in years. They've taken their knowledge in trackpad finger gestures and one-piece manufacturing and made this delicate, yet sturdy, bridge-shaped mouse.

The Magic Mouse will be included with new iMacs or can be purchased alone for $69. Currently the Magic Mouse is only compatible with Mac OS X, but broad support, including PCs, is likely to happen soon.

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Filed under: Apple • consumer tech • gadgets • technology


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September 25, 2009

Commentary: MMS finally comes to the iPhone

Posted: 11:57 AM ET

UPDATE: 2:09 p.m. Just updated the carrier profile for my phone via iTunes. I had to reboot, but MMS is now working and I have sent and received a few messages. Now that this is done - Bluetooth remote profile puhhhhleeeeese?

MMS (multi-media messaging) is finally going to be unlocked on the iPhone. ATT's Facebook Page says it should be out by "late morning" Pacific Time - translating to early afternoon for those of us in the Eastern Time zone.

If you can't wait till the update comes through, the iPhone blog has a nice walk through that might sate you for a few minutes.

But why do we care? (Besides the fact that it's a feature long available on practically every phone known to man.) You can e-mail pictures and videos from the iPhone already - and when you use email they usually get there. Plus, on cell phone networks, MMS can sometimes be a crapshoot.

The real reason this is a relief, IMHO (in my humble opinion), is the nasty way AT&T handles incoming MMS messages from friends.

Under the old MMS system, iPhone users received a text message, with a link, a message ID and a password. So not only did it require extra steps to see the message, it was as if the user interface was purposefully designed to keep you from seeing that cute picture of a bunny your friend just had to send you.

Of course, the new system comes with it own issues - mainly what the additional load of iPhone users sending and receiving MMS's will do to AT&T's seemingly already overtaxed network. PC World has a decent look at that issue (which I found via a tweet from @NPRALLTECH on Twitter).

So what are your thoughts? Is this a feature you were chomping at the bit for, something you don't think you'll ever use, or are you somewhere in between? (Personally I'm still waiting for the Bluetooth remote profile to work so I can change tracks via my Bluetooth headphone ...)

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Filed under: Apple • e-mail • iPhone • smartphones • technology


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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 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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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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