SciTechBlog
April 28, 2010

Cub Scouts to offer video gaming pin

Posted: 12:42 PM ET

Cub Scouts: The term conjures images of kids doing stuff outside – hiking amid nature, tying knots or identifying which leaf will leave you scratching if used for the wrong purpose.

Well, times have changed. In a move that may horrify old-school former Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America has announced it will offer two awards – a pin and a belt loop – to boys who spend hours playing video games.

Yes, that’s right. Just picture a group of 8- to 10-year-olds huddled around not a campfire but a TV, that glowing box of complacency.

Apparently these new awards are geared toward making Scouts understand which games are appropriate for their age group, not just rewarding them for sitting around on their butts playing video games. Scouts also can work towards their pin by playing a video game that "helps you in your schoolwork."

But you still have to wonder if this isn’t a misguided attempt by the Cub Scouts to stay relevant by pandering to boys’ interests. Seems to me the Scouts should be getting kids outside and teaching them practical skills beyond the bubble of their everyday lives instead of how to read the back of a video game box.

It reminds me of some “Star Trek” episode where a civilization has become so reliant on technology that they have no practical know-how and can’t fix it when it breaks - picture Picard MacGyvering a computer with a paper clip so the planet doesn’t explode.

Those of you who were in the Scouts, what’s your take on this? Should today’s Cub Scouts be rewarded for playing video games? What badge or award were you most proud of earning?

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • pop culture • video games


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January 28, 2010

Apple Fanboy 2: Not impressed with the iPad

Posted: 03:58 PM ET
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Leading up to Apple's Wednesday announcement, I was pretty giddy. I’m in the market for a new laptop - or really a sub-notebook or netbook - so I was hoping this would fit the bill.

And hey, the iPad tablet computing device that Apple unveiled is pretty cool. It has a nice, big screen, a new and seemingly zippy processor, a new bookstore (the iBookstore) and even new iWorks apps to help you get stuff done. With the full-size, touch-screen keyboard and the Pages word processing app, I could easily take notes in meetings or even write blog posts with ease.

But I'm not sold. Apple's first-generation products are infamous for glitches, and there are some key features missing in the iPad Apple CEO Steve Jobs debuted this week.

So I’ll wait to see the next-gen device before I decide to buy or not.

Here’s why:

1) No camera. Um, what???

2) A 3G data connection is $129 extra plus $30 a month for unlimited data? No thanks.

3) The price. Sure, others are excited about the starting price of $499. But the high-end model, which I would want, doesn't seem worth it.

But what do you think? Did apple hit the mark, or miss it completely? What features were you surprised by and what are you annoyed isn’t there?

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Filed under: Apple • iPad


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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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June 19, 2009

I waited three-plus hours for my new iPhone

Posted: 07:57 AM ET

So I arrived at my chosen Atlanta-area Apple store about 30 minutes after its early 7 a.m. opening. There are two lines here: one for people like me who preordered their phone online, and one for those who didn't.

The reservation line stretches around a corner - far enough that I can't see the actual store front. The other line is reportedly shorter, but moving much slower, and a store employee tells us that the bulk of their "specialists" are working this line.

One cool thing: They have a little cart going around with snacks and drinks.

UPDATE: Now there is some confusion over whether I actually have a reservation for a new phone, as I didn't receive a reminder e-mail with the store's name. But I did call a friend several days ago who works at this store, and who conformed that I'm on the list for a 32-gig black iPhone 3GS.

UPDATE 2: Security came up and split the line - making it wrap backwards around a railing - to keep us pre-orderers from interfering with a nearby, yet-to-open kiosk.

UPDATE 3, 9 a.m. ET: An Apple Store employee is carrying around a 3GS for people in line to fondle. The application response time is very fast. The camera app launched quickly, without the lag that seems to plague my 3G, and switched to video mode seamlessly. The auto focus is so cool. Simply touch the screen on what you want to focus on, and a small white box appears around your finger.

The snack cart continues to make the rounds. And I'd guess there are at least 70 people on front of me. Looks like I'll be awhile.

UPDATE 4, 9:40 a.m. ET: I can just make out the faint Apple logo on the front of the store from my place in line.

UPDATE 5, 9:55 a.m. ET: Probably 30 people still in front of me. People are grumbling that they should have just got in the shorter, no-reservation line.

UPDATE 6, 10:45 a.m. ET: An Apple "specialist" in a blue shirt has come to take me to my new iPhone!! I can't wait to get my grubby hands on it. We'll soon know how good that screen coating is at keeping fingerprints at bay.

FINAL UPDATE, 11:30 a.m. ET: I got my phone! And I only had to wait in line for about three and a half hours - which might sound like alot, but last year I waited something like seven, and there was no snack cart. The mood in the line was getting a bit cranky after awhile but quickly improved as we neared the store.

Once I entered the store a nice man named Phil escorted me around, helped me find the accessories I wanted (Contour Hardskin, just like I have on the 3G - though I might get a blue one later - and a matte screen protector), and then we started the activation process.

The activation process took about 10 minutes because there were lots of little steps. The store employee put in my account info, we waited for it to download, I agreed to some terms and waited for it to update. Then my total came up. I handed him a credit card and it came back slightly melted because I refused to wait till December for my new toy. Then he unwrapped the new phone, plugged it into iTunes and, surprisingly quickly, I was ready to go.

I used my new phone to shoot some video of the line as I walked out. Some people laughed and others jeered as they thought I was flaunting my new toy.

Now I'm going to sit in the mall's food court and sync the new phone so it has all my stuff (it already has some contacts, because I quickly set up my Mobile Me e-mail and other services).

I will say this: I got my new iPhone before a friend who had hers shipped to her home. She's stuck in meetings and missed the UPS guy. Shoulda shipped it to work 🙂

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Filed under: iPhone


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June 8, 2009

A fanboy reacts to Monday's Apple event

Posted: 04:26 PM ET

Hi Mr. Jobs? Here’s all my money. I want the new iPhone. . .NOW.

From this fanboy's perspective, tons of cool things were announced today at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference: a new iPhone operating system, cool iPhone apps, new software features including cut and paste and MMS (if AT&T can support it).

But all that pales in comparison to the BIG news: a new iPhone 3GS, available in the U.S. on June 19 (you can preorder from Apple’s site), just two days after the 3.0 software release (omg omg, can I get in line now!?!?).

Here’s a quick list of the iPhone 3GS's new features
- a 3-megapixel camera with auto focus; you tap the screen on what you want to focus on
- records video (which you can send via MMS, upload to MobileMe and YouTube)
- supports 7.2 Mbps HSDPA (faster mobile Internet speeds, basically)
- voice control; you can talk to your phone to dial numbers, control the iPod functions and more
- two price points: $299/32GB, $199/16GB
- If you're under contract with AT&T, have an iPhone 3G and want to upgrade to the 3GS, AT&T will let you for twice the prices of the new phones, plus an $18 fee.

Have I said I’m excited for push notifications? ‘Cause I am. Also the "Find My Phone" feature they announced for MobileMe customers sounds pretty amazing (go to the Web site).

Apple also announced some pretty cool new applications. TomTom will be the first turn-by-turn GPS app in the store, and the accessory dock you can get for it looks pretty cool (oh, I’d love to review this). The Zipcar app also stood out. With it you can reserve your car, find it, and even unlock - it all from the phone.

The new Snow Leopard OS also will bring a ton of improvements. Safari 4 (increased speed and stability and a bunch of hot new features) and updated QuickTime stand out to me.

Oh, and new MacBook Pros. They’re cool. All the aluminum unibodies are now MacBook Pros. Apple removed the Express Card slot from the smaller two and replaced it with an SD slot, which is nice if your camera takes SD (my DSLR does not).

So, no tablet. When will we see the long-rumored Apple mid-sized computer? Maybe never, I’m not holding my breath.

What was your favorite detail from the keynote? What did you see that you didn’t expect (that voice control thing is pretty awesome). What did you NOT see that leaves you wondering?

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Filed under: Apple • computers • iPhone


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What iPhone news do you want to hear today?

Posted: 09:41 AM ET

Here we are, mere hours from the 1 p.m. ET keynote address at Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. I can hardly sit still.

What will we see? What new toys will be revealed by the Cult of Steve? Will we be overwhelmingly pleased or will the reality pale next to the hype?

At the very least we should get the long-promised 3.0 update of the iPhone software. If that's not available for download today, expect a lot of grumbling from the peanut gallery. This will bring the iPhone a ton of new features - multimedia messaging, global search, and (the one I'm so ready for) background notifications.

Also expected is the announcement of new hardware - refining the phone with such dreamed-of features as video recording, a better camera and dramatically increased speed and processing power. I don't think this will be available today, but I would give them money to ensure I get my hands on one as soon as they've shipped (all they really have to do to hook me is release a 32GB version).

We should also hear new details on Apple's upcoming operating system, dubbed "Snow Leopard."

What do you hope to see? What's unlikely? Will there be a jaw-dropping "one more thing?"

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Filed under: iPhone


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May 20, 2009

Oh iPhone rumors, how I love thee

Posted: 11:32 AM ET

We’re just a little more than two weeks away from the rumored release/announcement of the new version of the iPhone.

It's expected that the Apple will release the 3.0 software at the World Wide Developers Conference on June 8th (no Jobs, but Phil Schiller will be doing the keynote). Having a few friends and colleagues who have started developing for the iPhone - I've actually got to play with the beta a bit. I must say, as nice as cut and paste is, the search is my favorite new feature. Being able to search through emails, contacts and anything else on my phone is way nice (and one of the main features I missed when I first got the phone last year).

The real question is - will new hardware be announced at the same time? Some of the big rumors surrounding video recording (that it will only work on new hardware) point to it coming soon - and has sparked a flurry of rumors to go with it.

Some say you will be able to edit video on the phone. If this comes true, I suspect it will be more about trimming to make the video shorter than making it theater-worthy.

There’s also a host of rumors surrounding Apple developing custom innards for the phone – custom processor, OLED screen, a specially designed battery – although those seem more likely for a further away iteration than anything we're likely to see this year.

I'm hoping for increased capacity (really a no brainer, but how big will it be? ... 80GB iPhone please?) and a better camera. Three megapixels would be acceptable, 4 would be grand and 5 would actually be worth using.

What do you think Apple should provide with a hardware update to the phone? And which of these rumors sound too good to be true? OHH and just to bait the water a little – what are the chances Apple will finally come through with the long rumored netbook/tablet?

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone • online video • technology


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March 20, 2009

California regulators rile ethanol producers

Posted: 12:52 PM ET
Some ethanol producers are unhappy with California's proposed low carbon fuel standards.

Some ethanol producers are unhappy with California's proposed low carbon fuel standards.

California wants to take a big-picture look at decreasing carbon emissions from transportation, and in doing so, it has managed to step on some toes, mainly some ethanol producers. Since California is often a trend-setter on these type of things, this case could be a good example of what the rest of us might see in our own states down the road.

Biofuels play a big role in this, but it’s the way they’re doing it that has some people riled up. I’m a biofuel fan myself and have two vehicles (both 25-year-old-plus diesels, one of which was featured on CNN.com’s American Road Trips special) that I run on biodiesel, so I find this all quite interesting.

California's proposing a “Low Carbon-Fuel Standard” aimed at decreasing carbon, not only from tailpipe emissions but also from the overall production of fuels and their use. As part of this, it has proposed a rule limiting the use of ethanol in the strategy, mainly because it says ethanol from corn (because of its land use and impact on food crops) can have a higher impact than regular gasoline produced in the state (according to the Los Angeles Times).

Supporters of the proposal claim they aren’t trying to ban ethanol or anything; in fact, according to the fact sheet I linked to above, they’re advocating going from an ethanol blend fuel called E5 (5 percent ethanol, 95 percent gasoline) to E10 (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline) and E85 (85 percent ethanol) for flex fuel vehicles.

Mainly they’re stressing the change from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic-based ethanol (ethanol made from agricultural waste or switchgrass are cited examples), which the sheet says can have four or five times lower greenhouse gas emissions than corn.

The ethanol people don’t really like that. Tom Koehler of Pacific Ethanol told the Los Angeles Times that the proposal was a “perversion of science and a prescription for disaster.” And Wesley Clark (yes, that Wesley Clark), the co-chairman of ethanol lobbying group Growth Energy, told SFGate that in addition to bad science, it would be “bad policy to adopt a regulation that creates unfair standards” and would continue California’s reliance on fossil fuels.

If you live in California, you have until April 23 to comment on the proposal, when the Air Resources Board will vote. And I'm sure the rest of you will have plenty to say on this controversial topic. Fire away in the comments.

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Filed under: Cars • climate change • environment • Ethanol • Fuel • Gas • Gasoline • Road trip


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March 16, 2009

What do you want to see in the iPhone update?

Posted: 01:03 PM ET
Apple will unveil its iPhone 3.0 software Tuesday.

Apple will unveil its iPhone 3.0 software Tuesday.

Apple is scheduled to make an iPhone announcement Tuesday, and you may have seen the reports from Fortune and others: Kevin Rose of Digg says the iPhone 3.0 software will support copy and paste (finally!!!) and bring the phone's feature list up to par with the upcoming Palm Pre.

Rose also cites his source as saying that there will be no background applications for the iPhone, no video and no multimedia messages (MMS) this release.

But hopefully Apple will announce its long-promised iPhone push-notification system (which will make things like instant messaging actually useful).

Of course, we’ll find out exactly what we’ll be getting Tuesday. But speculating about what Apple will do is half the fun, right?

So what iPhone features do you want to see?

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone


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March 11, 2009

The battle over cybersecurity

Posted: 11:59 AM ET
Rod Beckstrom, head of the NCSC, resigned last week.

Rod Beckstrom, head of the NCSC, resigned last week.

There's a bureaucratic wrestling match going on over which piece of the federal government will get to handle cybersecurity.

Here's the gist, gleaned from Wired and Forbes' coverage: On one side of the ring, there's the National Security Agency, which is known for its extreme secrecy and its program to wiretap phone conversations of Americans.

On the other, there's the Department of Homeland Security, which now manages computer security. The head of the department's computer security branch resigned last week, complaining that the NSA is trying to steal control of the program.

In his resignation letter to the Department of Homeland Security and in an interview with Forbes on Monday, Rod Beckstrom said consolidating the cybersecurity program under the NSA would put too much power in one agency's hands. Privacy groups are concerned about the NSA taking over the program because of how it handled secret wiretaps of phone conversations.

But the idea does have support. Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair told Congress that the NSA should be in charge rather than Homeland Security.

Cybersecurity is a huge issue - especially since technology is often outpacing our ability to understand all of the implications. Many people want to see a solution that improves security without chilling innovation and openness on the Internet - or infringing on privacy. Others see most any attempt at increased security to be needed.

This post is just a primer, so please weigh in on this issue in the comments. How far should government go to make our computers secure? And which agency should handle that?

Also, check out these cybersecurity tips from Homeland Security.

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Filed under: Internet • Security


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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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