SciTechBlog
May 26, 2010

Third-grader wins Google doodle contest

Posted: 04:44 PM ET

Thanks to a box of colored pencils and a whole lot of creativity, Makenzie Melton now has a $15,000 college scholarship, a netbook computer and a $25,000 technology grant for a new computer lab at her school.

How did a third-grader from El Dorado Springs, Missouri, score the prizes? By winning Google’s 2010 Doodle 4 Google contest.

Melton’s doodle, titled “Rainforest Habitat," will appear on the Google homepage Thursday.

The doodle, which expresses Melton’s “concern that the rainforest is in danger,” was chosen over more than 33,000 submissions by students - ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade, according to a post on the Official Google Blog.

Melton and the rest of the applicants were asked to develop a doodle for the site’s home page based on the theme, “If I could do anything, I would…” A panel of “well-known illustrators, cartoonists and animators” helped choose the winning doodle, according to the blog.

The regional and state finalists’ doodles can be found on the official Google Blog.

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Filed under: Google


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May 21, 2010

Does Facebook know who you'll date next?

Posted: 01:29 PM ET

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg genuinely cares about your relationship status. Well, maybe not genuinely, but he may look into it if he’s bored.

One of Zuckerberg’s favorite pastimes is determining Facebook users’ relationship patterns, according to David Kilpatrick’s upcoming book, “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World.”

Are you constantly chatting with your girlfriend’s best friend? Do you spend more time on your crush’s Facebook page than your boyfriend’s?

You don’t have to be honest with us, but don’t bother lying to Zuckerberg.

A handful of tech blogs have published an excerpt from the book that says Zuckerberg uses certain factors to determine whether your relationship is on the outs and who you’ll likely be dating next.

All Facebook, a blog about the social-networking site, posted this passage:

“By examining friend relationships and communications patterns (Zuckerberg) could determine with about 33 percent accuracy who a user was going to be in a relationship with a week from now. To deduce this he studied who was looking which profiles, who your friends were friends with, and who was newly single, among other indicators.”

So what's your take on Zuckerberg as Cupid? Is his theory on this credible, or just creepy? If he offered you an insider's prediction on your significant other’s romantic future, would you take it?

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Filed under: Facebook


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May 18, 2010

4 tools to help reclaim Facebook privacy

Posted: 03:22 PM ET

To some users and tech writers, it appears Facebook won’t let anything stand in the way of its quest for World Wide Web domination. Maybe not even its users’ privacy.

As most Facebook users already know, the social networking site has yet again updated its privacy settings. And the “guide to privacy on Facebook” can seem more like an encyclopedia than a guide. Some users have become so confused that they've chosen to leave the site entirely.

But, thanks to a few independent tools floating around in cyberspace, it's gotten a bit easier to navigate the maze of Facebook settings. Here are a few tools and websites that caught our attention:

ReclaimPrivacy, a donation-based project, recently launched a tool that scans your Facebook page’s privacy settings. It alerts users when their privacy settings have defaulted to public.

SaveFace, which is free to install, automatically sets users’ settings - contact information, search settings, friends, tags, connections, personal information and posts - to “friends only.”

TinEye is not specifically for privacy conscious Facebook users. However, the reverse image search engine can be useful when looking to see if an image posted on Facebook has made its way across the Web. Simply upload a photo and let TineEye search the Web to see if the image has been used elsewhere.

Finally, there's OpenBook (warning: potentially offensive language), a site that doesn't exactly help you manage your Facebook privacy settings, but it might scare you into wanting to keep your info private. The site lets you search through public status updates. Some really embarrassing stuff shows up.

Know of any tools we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under: Facebook


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April 22, 2010

Guy who lost 4G iPhone offered trip to Germany

Posted: 06:03 PM ET

It's probably been a tough week for Apple engineer Gray Powell, what with him reportedly losing a next-generation iPhone in a bar, only to see photos of the super-secret device later spashed across the internet.

Tech blogs say Powell left the prototype, which was disguised as an iPhone 3GS, behind at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a German beer hall in Redwood City, California. The iPhone was later sold to tech blog Gizmodo for $5,000.

There's been rampant speculation that Powell is in trouble with Apple for losing the phone. But Lufthansa, the German airline, is offering to help the 27-year-old drown his sorrows.

The airline’s director of marketing and customer relations has written an open letter to Powell, dated April 21 and posted on the internet.

“I recently read in the news that you lost a very special phone at a German beer bar in California," writes Nicola C. Lange. "We all know how frustrating it can be to lose personal belongings … at Lufthansa we also noted with great interest your passion for German beer and culture."

Lange goes on to say, "[Lufthansa] would like to offer you complimentary Business Class transportation to Munich where you can literally pick up where you left off.”

The letter was attached to a tweet posted on the airline’s Twitter page Thursday. It said, “If you can help us get in touch with Gray Powell, we’d like to fly him to Munich.”

As marketing gimmicks go, this is a pretty good one.

There was no word as of late Thursday on whether Powell had accepted the offer. But if he does, maybe he should leave his iPhone at home.

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone


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April 20, 2010

3G iPad goes on sale April 30

Posted: 11:23 AM ET

The 3G version of the iPad, which connects to the Internet over AT&T's wireless network, will go on sale in the U.S. on April 30, Apple announced Tuesday.

The suggested retail price is $629 for 16GB, $729 for 32GB and $829 for 64GB.

The Wi-Fi + 3G model is priced higher than the Wi-Fi-only model released in the U.S. on April 3 because its 3G capability will allow users to surf the Web without a Wi-Fi connection.

Customers who have not pre-ordered a 3G iPad will have to wait until 5 p.m. on April 30 to get their hands on the new model.

“Apple retail stores will offer a free Personal Setup service to every customer who buys an iPad at the store,” according to the company's press release.

All versions of the iPad will go on sale at the end of May in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, Apple said.

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Filed under: Apple • iPad


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April 15, 2010

MySpace unveils new event calendar

Posted: 02:31 PM ET

MySpace, which has long been an online hangout for musicians and music fans, is now making it easier for users to keep up with musical happenings.

The social-networking site unveiled its new global events calendar Thursday. Called MySpace Events, the feature is a “global platform that supplies artists and users with tools to create, discover and share events including an easy-to-use calendar,” said Marcus Womack, director of events and ticketing, in a MySpace blog post.

Users also will have the opportunity to sync their MySpace Events with Facebook and Twitter, making it easier for people to manage their “entire social calendar and share events across the Web,” Womack said.

MySpace will add different types of events - sports, nightlife and arts happenings - in addition to the “concerts and pop culture events” already featured on the site, Womack said.

The site also will allow users to receive alerts about future shows of their choice and purchase tickets through MySpace, a service made possible by the site’s partnership with Ticketmaster and Live Nation.

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Filed under: MySpace


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April 14, 2010

Google unveils 'replay' search feature

Posted: 03:08 PM ET

It's already easy to find relevant Twitter updates in Google real-time search results. Now, thanks to a new Google feature, you can see what people were tweeting about a topic last week or last month.

Google on Wednesday introduced a “replay” feature that allows users to search tweets posted at any given point in time - down to the minute.

Let’s say you're curious to see what people were tweeting about Kathryn Bigelow the night of the Academy Awards on March 7. After you type her name into Google's search field, select “Show Options” on the results page and then click “Updates.”

A timeline will appear above the results, allowing you to zero in on tweets by the hour or minute. They spiked late in the Oscars telecast, when excited viewers began tweeting about Bigelow becoming the first woman to win Best Director.

Here's a preview of what the new feature looks like.

“By replaying tweets, you can explore any topic that people have discussed on Twitter,” wrote Dylan Casey, Google product manager for real-time search, in a post on Google's blog.

For now, users can explore tweets going back about two months - to February 11 - although Google promises that you’ll soon be able to search as far back as the very first tweet on March 21, 2006.

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Filed under: Google • Twitter


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April 13, 2010

Facebook launches new Safety Center

Posted: 11:29 AM ET

What should you do if your teen is being cyber-bullied on Facebook? How does the site work with law enforcers to investigate criminal activity? And what can you do if someone has posted a photo of you on Facebook that you don’t like?

These questions, among others, are addressed in Facebook’s newly redesigned Safety Center aimed at parents, educators, law enforcement officials and teens.

The Safety Center, which launched Tuesday, was created to make sure the site’s 400 million users are networking safely, according to Facebook’s official press release.

The site is more efficient now, Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a blog post. By including frequently asked questions with detailed answers, information is easier to find, he says.

“Safety is Facebook's top priority,” Sullivan wrote. “We've created cleaner, more navigable interfaces to help you find answers to safety questions fast.”

Privacy settings are also explained in detail on the new page, as well as how to block users, remove unwanted content from a profile page and anonymously report abusive behavior.

The online center is a result of Facebook’s collaboration with its Safety Advisory Board.

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet


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March 8, 2010

iPad ad debuts during Oscars

Posted: 12:21 PM ET

The Oscars made history Sunday night - it was the first time a woman won Best Director, and the first time an ad for Apple’s upcoming iPad aired on TV.

The ad, which aired several times during the awards show, follows the same simple formula as Apple's iPhone commercials by featuring unidentified users navigating the iPad with catchy music - “There Goes My Love” by The Blue Van - in the background.

Among the iPad functions highlighted by Apple in the ad: Displaying newspaper articles and e-books, playing movies, showing maps and pictures and typing on the iPad’s touch-screen keyboard.

After the commercial's debut, the iPad became a trending topic on Twitter and on blogs.

The new ad wasn’t Apple's only presence at the 82nd-annual Academy Awards. Steve Jobs was spotted on the red carpet - in a tux, not his usual black turtleneck. The Apple CEO, who presumably was there supporting Disney/Pixar's “Up,” is a shareholder and member of the Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors.

The iPad will be available in the United States April 3. Customers can begin pre-ordering the device March 12.

What do you think about the iPad ad?

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Filed under: Apple • iPad


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March 5, 2010

YouTube auto-captions: a work in progress

Posted: 03:27 PM ET

I logged on to YouTube today, eager to test the automatic-captioning feature made available to all users Thursday.

I plugged in my headphones, clicked on the first video I saw - a clip from the Food Network show, “Semi-Homemade Cooking” - and turned on captioning by clicking the "cc" icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

Before the captions appeared, a message popped up that read, “Please note: Transcribed Audio is an experimental service that uses Google’s speech recognition technologies to provide automated captions for video.”

Experimental - they weren’t kidding.

“I’m just going to take this and kind of free form it,” host Sandra Lee said as she prodded a loaf of raw meat. However, the caption read, “I’m just going to take that a tax break for it.”

Other mangled captions have appeared on Twitter and on the new Web meme, YouTubecaptionfail.com.

In a post on the Official YouTube Blog, a spokesperson acknowledges “auto-captions aren’t perfect,” but asks user to be patient. “Our speech recognition technology gets better every day.”

Here's how it works:

“Auto-captioning combines some of the speech-to-text algorithms found in Google's Voice Search to automatically generate video captions when requested by a viewer … Just like any speech recognition application, auto-captions require a clearly spoken audio track,” the blog states. “Videos with background noise or a muffled voice can't be auto-captioned.” 

A YouTube spokesperson told CNN, “Although auto-captions are imperfect, they’re better than nothing and they will help the deaf community to better understand this wide world of video they previously hadn’t been able to connect with.”

At the moment, auto-captioning only applies to videos in English. In the coming months, YouTube plans to release auto-captioning for many other languages.

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Filed under: Google • YouTube


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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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