SciTechBlog
July 1, 2009

First impressions of Firefox 3.5

Posted: 12:16 PM ET

Mozilla released its latest version of Firefox, the world's second-most-popular Web browser, on Tuesday. Available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in more than 70 languages, Firefox 3.5 is the browser's first major upgrade since the launch of Firefox 3 in June 2008.

Firefox 3.5 claims to be more than twice as fast as Firefox 3 and has a host of new features,
including a private browsing mode, customized downloadable fonts, the ability to show video built into Web pages without plug-ins, and geolocation technology that lets Web sites know where you are.

Early reviews have been positive. Slate's Farhad Manjoo tested a pre-release version and found it "hard to beat." An excerpt:

Though I can't call it the world's fastest browser—Chrome and Safari are just as fast—the new Firefox is no longer a lumbering beast. It launches quickly, fires up complex sites like Gmail and Google Maps without any hiccups, and runs tons of open tabs without crashing (an ever-present possibility in earlier versions).

And ComputerWorld's Preston Gralla says:

The just-released version 3.5 of Firefox is a winner, offering significantly faster Web browsing, better tab handling, a host of interface tweaks and, like just about every other browser on the planet, a "porn mode." If you already use Firefox you'll want to upgrade right away. If you're not a Firefox user, this version represents a very good opportunity to give the browser a test run.

In his review, CNET's Seth Rosenblatt is a little more cautious in his praise:

It is by no means the leap ahead that its predecessor Firefox 3 was, and it's clear that the competition isn't going away anytime soon.

How about you new Firefox 3.5 users out there? Anyone want to weigh in?

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Filed under: Web browsers


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June 24, 2009

Outlook 2010 not winning fans. . .on Twitter

Posted: 03:51 PM ET

Outlook 2010, the next generation of Microsoft's software for managing e-mail, appointments and other business functions, hasn't launched to the public yet. But that hasn't stopped a sudden chorus of complaints about Microsoft's decision to use Word to format HTML e-mails, which some designers say will fail to properly display them.

Not surprisingly, the engine behind this online protest is Twitter. "Outlook 2010" was a top trending topic on the micro-blogging site Wednesday, thanks to an organized campaign of protest tweets. Many of the tweets reference a site, http://fixoutlook.org, which appears to be simply a page containing the icons of Twitter users who have joined the campaign.

"It’s time to rally together and encourage Microsoft to embrace web standards before it’s too late," states the site, which claims more than 17,000 Twitter followers. "Let’s use Twitter to send a clear message to Microsoft." The site then steers visitors back to Twitter.

Is this "outrage" over Outlook 2010 real? Will it force Microsoft to change its plans? Or is this just another example of clever people using Twitter to advance a cause and manipulate public opinion?

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • Twitter


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June 19, 2009

Want a job? Hand over your Facebook password

Posted: 06:11 PM ET

How would you like to apply for a job and have your prospective employer ask for the usernames and passwords for all your social-networking accounts?

That's what's happened to applicants for jobs with the city of Bozeman, Montana, who were surprised to discover they needed more than a work history and references.

"Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.," reads a background-check waiver form that applicants had to sign. (There's no mention of Twitter.) The form then contains three lines where applicants are to list their logins and passwords.

The request raised questions about privacy rights in Montana, whose constitution states: "The right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest."

Is discovering a job applicant's cheeky status updates or stupid YouTube videos a "compelling interest" for the city of Bozeman?

Chuck Winn, Bozeman's assistant city manager, thinks so.

"Before we offer people employment in a public trust position, we have a responsibility to do a thorough background check," Winn told CNET on Thursday. "Shame on us if there was information out there available about a person who applied for a job who was a child molester or had some sort of information out there on the Internet that kind of showed those propensities and we didn't look for it, we didn't ask, and we hired that person," Winn said. "In many ways we would have let the public down."

Hmm. Maybe I'm out of touch here, but do people really list their pedophiliac tendencies on Facebook?

According to CNET, Bozeman city offices have been flooded with angry calls and e-mails since this news broke earlier this week. In an unscientific online poll by a Montana TV station, 98 percent of respondents opposed the city's request on privacy grounds.

The furor led city officials to reconsider. After a closed-door meeting Friday, Bozeman officials suspended the practice, according to several Montana media outlets - who first announced the news on Twitter.

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Filed under: social-networking sites


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June 18, 2009

Some report problems in downloading new iPhone OS

Posted: 11:36 AM ET

According to Web reports, some iPhone owners have had trouble updating their devices with the phone's new 3.0 operating system, which Apple made available for download Wednesday.

Complaints flooded Twitter and other social-networking sites Wednesday from people who said they received an iTunes error message stating the “iPhone activation server is unavailable.”

CNET reporter Stephen Shankland finally succeeded in upgrading his iPhone Wednesday afternoon after some 30 tries, according to a report by his CNET colleague Erica Ogg, who had this take on the issue:

This, of course, is a repeat of what happened last year, when Apple's iTunes servers couldn't withstand the barrage of traffic when customers tried to update to iPhone 2.0 software at the same time new iPhone 3G buyers were attempting to activate their phones.

The problem appeared to have eased by Thursday morning, judging by reports on Twitter.

Did you have issues downloading your new iPhone software? And if you succeeded, how do you like your upgraded phone?

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Filed under: iPhone


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May 28, 2009

Artist uses iPhone to 'paint' New Yorker cover

Posted: 08:33 PM ET

Add one more to all the amazing (and sometimes useless) tasks that can be achieved on an app-loaded iPhone. cover_newyorker_190

Artist Jorge Colombo "painted" the cover of the current issue of The New Yorker using Brushes, an application for his iPhone, while standing for an hour in New York City's Times Square. You can see how he did it at the magazine's blog, which hosts a 51-second video (speeded up, I think) of the virtual picture coming together.

The impressionistic nighttime scene, titled "Finger Painting," depicts a street hot dog vendor and his customers.

"I like using my fingers. I like the quick eyeballing of colors. I like the endless Undo function," Colombo told CNET. "Wish I had a bigger screen, and long drawing sessions depletes my battery. I'm all the time ducking into cafes or restaurants, forcing myself to consume something while I recharge the phone on a socket to go do more drawings."

I'll leave the critics to decide whether it's a great work of art. But as a tech milestone, I think it's pretty cool. A professional painting, done on a smart phone!

Now when the iPhone can make a pizza and open a beer bottle, I may actually buy one.

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Filed under: iPhone


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April 16, 2009

Europe goes nuts for Facebook

Posted: 11:31 AM ET

Facebook may have started in the U.S., but its fastest growth is now overseas in places like Europe, where it's spreading like crazy.

According to new data from comScore, Inc., which measures Internet use, Facebook now accounts for more than 4 percent of all minutes spent online in Europe - up from 1.1 percent a year ago.

As of February the social-networking site had almost 100 million users in Europe - a 314-percent increase over February 2008. In Italy alone, Facebook grew by more than 2,700 percent over the past year, suggesting that some Italians may be giving up face-to-face socializing over espressos for networking online instead.

In other news: Back on the other side of the pond, Americans conducted 14.3 billion online searches in March, a 9-percent gain over February, according to new data released Wednesday by comScore.

As usual, Google sites led the way 63.7 percent of the searches conducted in the U.S., followed by Yahoo! sites (20.5 percent), Microsoft sites (8.3 percent), Ask Network (3.8 percent) and AOL (3.7 percent).

Google search sites gained almost half a percentage point since February, while all the others dipped slightly except Microsoft, which gained 0.1 percent.

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Filed under: Internet


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April 15, 2009

AT&T to extend iPhone pact?

Posted: 11:42 AM ET

Are you thinking about buying an iPhone but waiting until the device is available on wireless carriers other than AT&T? You may have to wait a while.

Apple and AT&T met last August and agreed to extend AT&T's contract as exclusive carrier of the iPhone through the end of 2009 - at which time Apple would presumably be allowed to start selling the popular smartphone on other carriers.

Now, AT&T wants to extend that deal another two years, according to a report Tuesday evening in The Wall Street Journal.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment, saying only, "We have a great relationship with AT&T."

Some iPhone users have grumbled about spotty AT&T service - notably during last month's South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, where thousands of iPhone-carrying attendees overloaded AT&T's network.

It'll be interesting to see if Apple agrees to AT&T's request or seeks to broaden the iPhone's popularity by opening the device to Verizon, Sprint and other carriers.

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Filed under: Internet • technology


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April 7, 2009

Arctic sea ice getting thinner

Posted: 06:10 PM ET

Thanks to satellite images, we've known for years now that the Arctic ice cap is shrinking. Now comes sobering, if not surprising, new evidence that shows the ice cap is thinning as well.

NASA scientists who track Arctic sea ice cover from space announced Monday that this winter had the fifth lowest maximum ice extent on record. The six lowest maximum events since satellite monitoring began in 1979 have all occurred in the past six years (2004-2009), according a joint report by NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado.

Sea ice thickness has been hard to measure directly, so scientists have typically used estimates of ice age to approximate its thickness. But last year a team of researchers led by Ron Kwok of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., produced the first map of sea ice thickness over the entire Arctic basin.

Using two years of data from NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), Kwok's team estimated thickness and volume of the Arctic Ocean ice cover for 2005 and 2006. They found that the average winter volume of Arctic sea ice contained enough water to fill Lake Michigan and Lake Superior combined.

The older, thicker sea ice is declining and is being replaced with newer, thinner ice that is more vulnerable to summer melt, according to Kwok. His team found that seasonal sea ice averages about 6 feet in thickness, while ice that had lasted through more than one summer averages about 9 feet, though it can grow much thicker in some locations near the coast.

"Ice extent is an important measure of the health of the Arctic, but it only gives us a two-dimensional view of the ice cover," said Walter Meier, research scientist at the center and the University of Colorado, Boulder, in a NASA press release. "Thickness is important, especially in the winter, because it is the best overall indicator of the health of the ice cover. As the ice cover in the Arctic grows thinner, it grows more vulnerable to melting in the summer."

The report comes as the privately funded $4.3 million Catlin Arctic Survey, a three-month, 621-mile expedition by three British explorers, journeys to the North Pole to measure the thickness of the polar ice cap. Their findings will be presented at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

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Filed under: climate change


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March 27, 2009

Ready for Earth Hour?

Posted: 04:53 PM ET

You've heard of Earth Day. Now get ready for Earth Hour.

The El Capitan theatre in Hollywood is one of many famous structures planning to switch off its lights during Earth Hour. Photo: Getty Images

A global initiative organized by the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Hour is asking people and institutions around the world to turn off their lights for one hour Saturday night - 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. in whatever time zone you're in - to conserve energy and make a statement of concern about climate change.

Earth Hour began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for 60 minutes. Last year 50 million people turned off their lights, according to the project's Web site, www.earthhour.org. Such global landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in New York's Times Square all stood in darkness. (No word on Las Vegas, though.)

This time, organizers hope that 1 billion people worldwide - almost one-sixth of the Earth's population - will switch off their lights. More than 2,400 cities and towns in 82 countries - plus such floodlit icons as Paris's Eiffel Tower, Egypt’s Great Pyramids and New York's Empire State Building - are already on board, according to the Earth Hour site.

(The site doesn't say anything about whether participants should stop using all electricity during Earth Hour, so if you stay home and watch TV in the dark you might be OK.)

As with any public venture these days, Earth Hour leaders are using the Web to rally folks to their cause. An Earth Hour group on Facebook has more than 628,000 members, an Earth Hour video has been watched more than 57,000 times on YouTube and Earth Hour was the top-searched topic Friday afternoon on Twitter.

Tweets ranged from statements of support to such comments as "[I] will be cranking out as many jigawatts as possible during Earth Hour. I even plan to run both cars in the garage."

One man's Facebook post, titled "Why Earth Hour is stupid," argued that the initiative will simply waste energy unless power plants lower their production during this time. People could conserve electricity more efficiently by unplugging unused household appliances, he wrote.

So what, if any, are your plans for Earth Hour? And why?

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Filed under: climate change • Energy


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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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