February 25, 2010

Lighthearted @shamu Twitter feed disbanded

Posted: 03:55 PM ET

A day after a SeaWorld trainer died from being dragged underwater by a killer whale, the park has stopped posts on its lighthearted @shamu Twitter account.

Shamu is the famous name under which SeaWorld Orando’s trained killer whales perform in popular shows, doing tricks for audiences at the Florida park.

Dawn Brancheau, 40, had just finished a training session Wednesday when Tillikum, a 12,000-pound whale, grabbed her ponytail and dragged her into a 35-foot tank.

“At this difficult time, @Shamu will not be active. For Twitter updates follow @SeaWorld_Parks.” – read a post tweeted Thursday afternoon.

A post on Sea World’s blog said followers had been asking about the account’s silence since the accident.

“At this difficult time, @Shamu will not be active on Twitter, as users who follow @Shamu have come to expect posts that are light-hearted and perhaps a bit quirky,” the blog said. “SeaWorld’s other accounts, including @SeaWorld_Parks, will remain active and regular updates will be communicated through Twitter and other social networking platforms.”

The account, created about a year ago, had more than 9,900 followers as of Thursday afternoon.

Whale shows at the park also were canceled on Thursday.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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February 23, 2010

Apple bans most (but not all) sexy apps

Posted: 11:58 AM ET
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app is still available in the app store.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app is still available in the app store.

Apple has tightened its restrictions on sexy or suggestive apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and many of the most popular programs in the iTunes app store have been removed.

While speaking to the New York Times, Apple executive Phil Schiller explained, "It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see."

Several days ago the developer of the Wobble app posted the results of his discussion with Apple on his blog. The Wobble app, which adds a jelly-like wobble motion to any user supplied photo, was recently removed because advertisements suggested it could be used on photos of breasts.

I have spoken with Apple, and the following are the new rules:

1. No images of women in bikinis (Ice skating tights are not OK either)

2. No images of men in bikinis! (I didn’t ask about Ice Skating tights for men)

3. No skin (he seriously said this) (I asked if a Burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry)

4. No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs (yes – I am serious, we have to remove the silhouette in this pic)

5. No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex – all banned

6. Nothing that can be sexually arousing!! (I doubt many people could get aroused with the pic above but those puritanical guys at Apple must get off on pretty mundane things to find Wobble "overtly sexual!")

7. No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content (not sure how Playboy is still in the store, but …)

While most apps containing bikini-clad women are threatened, Phil Schiller defended the Sports Illustrated app to the Times. "The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format," he said.

As of this morning, a Playboy app was also still available, suggesting Apple may accept sexual content if the developer is associated with a strong brand.

Apple has struggled to keep the app store clean, but these new policies remove many of the store's most popular programs. Parents can enable the app store's parental controls and adults can simply choose not to download content they do not approve of.

In a blog post today, columnist Philip Elmer DeWitt linked the purge to next month's release of the iPad tablet computer, which will run iTunes apps and which Apple plans to market for home and school use.

How do you feel about Apple's decision? Should material that is so widely accepted be banned because it is objectionable to a relative few?

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Filed under: iPad • iPhone • iPod • mobile phones • smartphones

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February 22, 2010

'Endless Ocean' sequel is like a day at the beach

Posted: 02:32 PM ET
The deep, blue sea
The deep, blue sea

After many hours of killing mutated humans (“BioShock 2”), redeeming souls in Hell (“Dante’s Inferno”), or breaking out my military skills (“Battlefield: Bad Company 2” demo), it is nice to just unwind with a new game that can substitute for a tropical vacation.

“Endless Ocean: Blue World” (Nintendo, ARIKA) is the sequel to a 2007 game that emphasized relaxation and calm. The new version on the Wii, which hits stores today, has its calming moments as well - but there's an added element of adventure to it.

Players can dive into oceans around the world and find all kinds of varied marine wildlife and fauna. The visuals are great and the animals, from the tiny seaweed seahorses to the massive humpback whales, are quite lifelike. And there are opportunities to learn about the animals' habits and behaviors when you discover new species.

It would be very easy to just sit back and watch the fish go by, as in the first version of “Endless Ocean.” But there is a storyline to be followed.

The action involves finding out about the “Song of Dragons,” a mystery that takes players around the globe in search of clues and treasure. You can also heal or calm sick or agitated fish with a device called a Pulsar.

The game is not hardcore by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a nice change of pace or even an educational game for youngsters who want to learn more about marine life. Players can even dive with their friends by using Nintendo's Wi-Fi connection.

Speaking for myself, I'd rather relax with a tropical drink in hand and watch the fish go by than try to follow the game's adventure storyline. I like a little more adrenaline in my gameplay. In other words, those mutated humans aren’t going to kill themselves.

Other games coming out this week: “Heavy Rain” (2/22 for PS3), “Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing” (2/23 for PS3, X360, DS, WII), “Napoleon: Total War” (2/23 for PC) and “Metal Slug XX” (2/23 for PSP).

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Nintendo • video games

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Is this AAAS, or Comic-Con?

Posted: 02:11 PM ET

Actor-turned-White House staffer Kalpen Modi, better known by his former name, Kal Penn, spoke two years ago at the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con 2008, promoting the "Harold and Kumar" sequel. This past weekend, he appeared in the very same convention center in a suit and tie, reading a statement from the White House.

Since I was in San Diego last year for Comic-Con, attending the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the very same venue this weekend was a little jarring. Instead of thousands of geeks clad in elaborate costumes to celebrate characters from comic books, movies, and TV shows, I was surrounded this time by thousands of scientists. Instead of networks and studios promoting their movies and shows, researchers were here explaining their work.

Seeing Kumar– I mean, Modi, in action as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement drove home the point that this was not a costume party anymore. Director Ron Howard also spoke at AAAS, further blurring the line between science and celebrity.

But Modi wasn't the only crossover between Comic-Con and AAAS. James Kakalios, technical consultant on "Watchmen" and a physicist at the University of Minnesota, delivered a version of the very same speech he gave about the science of comic-book heroes at Comic-Con 2008. And I acquired a lot of brochures at AAAS just like I did at Comic-Con, and even came away with some fun, geeky swag (a magnetic button that flashes brightly colored lights in honor of the 50th anniversary of the laser).

Of course, AAAS does not dominate the convention center like Comic-Con did; there are other events going on in various halls of the complex, including a home improvement and landscape show. The huge registration hall for Comic-Con was eerily empty this weekend. AAAS is believed to draw about 6,000 attendees; Comic-Con 2010 is slated for 126,000 people. It's like comparing a small town to the entire city of Hartford, Connecticut.

I would assume that at Comic-Con 2008 Kal Penn was surrounded by giddy fans who waited in line for hours to see him. On Friday, a much more subdued audience listened to him talk about partnerships between science and the arts.

That meant I had comparatively little competition in approaching Modi afterwards and asking the question we all want to know: Does he have any plans for going back into acting?

"Perhaps at some point," he told me, and then explained that many people have come from the private sector to the current administration. "I would hope to continue to serve for the next few years, and you know, after that, I'm not sure. I don’t have any, sort of, set plans after that."

And since this was not Comic-Con, I professionally waited until he walked away to blush, smile, and sigh like a giddy fan.

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Filed under: Movies • science

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February 21, 2010

Lasers may enable fusion

Posted: 05:31 PM ET

Can a swimming pool's worth of water power California for a year?

The answer is yes, assuming all goes according to plan for scientists working on laser-driven fusion, said Ed Moses at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Moses spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, AAAS, on Sunday.

The sun's heat and light get generated in a fusion reaction, in which two hydrogen atoms combine to make helium. This reaction is driven by gravity, whereas in the proposed fusion reactor, particles come together because of lasers.

Water is the main and virtually limitless ingredient, since the idea is to make use of hydrogen particles in water. This summer and fall, researchers hope to test their technique with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that has one proton and two neutrons.

Energy from this fusion machine would be harnessed as follows: The reaction produces neutrons, which are slowed down in a liquid salt. The salt gets hot, and then it's pumped as a heat exchanger, essentially making steam. There are also other advanced ideas about how to get the energy out of the process, including the induction of electric currents.

The capability to get more energy out than is put in should be available in about five to seven years, Moses said. Researchers hope to get a demonstration plant up and running in the next 10 to 15 years.

There are, of course, social challenges in addition to technical challenges, he said. Fusion is one of many approaches being considered for cleaner energy.

To learn more, visit the site of the Laser Inertial Fusion Engine.

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Filed under: Energy

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February 20, 2010

How to cool the planet

Posted: 08:35 PM ET

Most scientists agree that global warming is real, but disagreement abounds about what to do about it.

The idea of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it so that it can't warm the planet has been pretty widely discussed. Here are some techniques you might not know about; they involve large-scale geoengineering.

Basically, scientists are trying to figure out how to cool the planet by reflecting some of the sunlight back.

One idea is shooting sulfur particles into the stratosphere, which could decrease the temperature of the planet by about 2 degrees Celsius, said experts today at the American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution says cooling methods like this are a little like chemotherapy for cancer patients - they solve problems, but have their own side effects.

A critic of this proposal, Martin Bunzl of Rutgers University, cautions that this approach could disrupt the monsoon cycle and potentially lead to famines. The dynamics of this on precipitation are also poorly understood, he said. In other words, it's like a doctor telling a patient "here’s something we can try" without knowing how it works.

"There’s a substantial risk of ecological effect," he said. "We don’t really know how long particles we put into the stratosphere remain in the stratosphere."

Another alternative is lightening clouds with sea salt. Philip Rasch of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory says the trade-off here is that you're getting brightening in local regions, whereas the sulfur method brightens the entire globe a little bit.

Right now a lot of what we know about these methods comes from computer modeling. Will they be feasible for the planet? More is yet to be learned.

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Filed under: environment • greenhouse gas

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February 19, 2010

How scientific are superheroes?

Posted: 04:02 PM ET

You've probably had moments watching science fiction films when you thought, "Naw, that couldn't happen." And it's true - sci-fi movies often contain elements that don't conform to the laws of physics.

But modern science can say a lot about the plausibility of such things as stopping an asteroid from destroying the planet, and these are teachable moments, experts said today at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California.

Take the asteroid example: films such as "When Worlds Collide" are good about estimating the impact of celestial objects hitting our planet, said Sidney Perkowitz, Emory University physicist and author of "Hollywood Science." In real life, the Tunguska Event, in which a meteor hit part of Siberia, Russia, in 1908, decimated hundreds of square miles of forest.

The Barringer Crater in Arizona, nearly a mile wide, was also created by a meteor. Science fiction movies, however, often incorrectly portray the "save the day moment," since not even an H-bomb has the power to deflect an asteroid, he said.

The powers of superheroes and villains do bring up important concepts in physics, said James Kakalios, technical consultant on the recent "Watchmen" movie and a physicist at the University of Minnesota. For instance, quantum tunneling - the idea that particles can pass through energy barriers - is how Dr. Manhattan teleports in "Watchmen" and how Kitty Pryde walks through walls in "X-Men." Dr. Manhattan's blue color can be explained through a phenomenon called Cerenkov radiation, he said, with the blue glow resulting from the leakage of high-energy electrons.

Believability is important to filmmakers because they don't want viewers' attention to drift away from the story, Kakalios said. He noticed, for instance, that in "Iron Man," Tony Stark is using the correct soldering tool and in the right way. "So you're not thinking about Robert Downey Jr. playing a role, you're thinking about Tony Stark making an Iron Man suit," he said.

You can watch Kakalios' popular YouTube video about the science of "Watchmen" to learn more. And watch for more on the science of superheroes on Monday on

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Filed under: science • technology

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Obama, MJ, 'Twilight' top Tiger's Ustream audience

Posted: 02:52 PM ET

Ahead of today's apology from Tiger Woods, some people speculated that the event would break the Web's record for most people watching a live video stream at the same time.

Obama's inauguration in January 2009 set that record, with 7.7 million simultaneous video streams across the Internet as a whole, according to Akamai Technologies Inc.

Tiger's "I'm so sorry" speech didn't even come close to that - at least not on Ustream.

According to numbers sent to CNN by Ustream spokeswoman Shari Foldes, Woods' audience for his 15-minute talk fell short of viewership for Obama's inauguration, Michael Jackson's funeral and last fall's "Twilight: New Moon" red carpet premiere.

But it's difficult to compare these numbers, Foldes said, because the events varied so greatly in length. Plus, Woods' apology was carried live on a number of Web sites aside from Ustream - including, YouTube and Hulu.

But here are Ustream's numbers, nonetheless.

What do you think they say about us as a society - or as the Internet audience? Feel free to chime in with comments.

Michael Jackson's memorial service: 4.6 million total streams
"Twilight: New Moon" red carpet premiere: 4.1 million total streams
Obama's inauguration: 3.8 million total streams
American Music Awards red carpet pre-show: 3.4 million total streams
Golden Globes red carpet pre-show: 1.7 million total streams

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Filed under: Tiger Woods • Ustream

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Is there a PlayStation3 shortage?

Posted: 11:00 AM ET
PlayStation 3
PlayStation 3

If you didn’t get one of the 1.36 million PlayStation 3 consoles that were sold over the holidays, you may have a hard time getting your hands on one now.

Sony officials are warning about a possible retail shortage due to massive sales in December. Sony is cautioning that the next few months will be tough for PS3 shoppers as the company tries to get more consoles on store shelves.

"We're working very hard with our retail partners to meet consumer interest, but the demand is tremendously high for the PS3 and we expect tight inventory in the coming months," Sr. Director of Corporate Communications Patrick Seybold told IGN.

Retailers are reacting. Best Buy is telling people they can’t pick the PS3 up at stores when ordering online and will have to wait until late February or early March for delivery. Amazon is changing their purchasing policies and limiting each household to only one unit.

A statement on Amazon's site said, "In an effort to provide as many customers as possible with the opportunity to purchase PlayStation 3 120 GB, we are limiting the total number of PlayStation 3 120 GB units that can be purchased. As a result, each household may only purchase one PlayStation 3 120 GB unit."

There has been speculation that the recent success of the PS3-exclusive “Uncharted 2,” plus anticipation for the upcoming final installment in the “God of War” series, may have boosted demand for the console.

Did you buy a new PS3 over the holidays? Why? And are you having trouble getting one now?

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Filed under: Gaming • Sony • video games

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February 18, 2010

Will Tiger top 'Twilight' on Ustream?

Posted: 12:53 PM ET

Tomorrow, the tabloid-friendly tale of golf star Tiger Woods is poised to become the biggest online video event of the year.

Woods has called a press event to speak publicly for the first time since a Nov. 27 car crash outside his home spiraled into a cavalcade of reports about his marital infidelities and sexual exploits.

His statement will be broadcast live on Ustream – the popular online video site – by its partner, CBS News. The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET.

Massive international interest in Tiger's golf future and the story’s salacious details – combined with the fact that the appearance falls in the middle of the workday for many in the United States – suggests that online viewership could easily enter the millions.

Tiger will be chasing a pack of young vampires if he hopes to be Ustream’s biggest star, though.

In November, more than 2 million unique Ustream viewers watched live red-carpet activity before the premiere of the blockbuster movie “Twilight: New Moon."

Ustream also has social-media tie-ins, letting users post messages to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter as they watch – and, no doubt, increasing interest as they do.

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Filed under: Internet • online video

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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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