Archive for June 20th, 2012

Facebook buys facial recognition firm‎

Facebook has bought, according to the latest from the company. Well, the Menlo Park based social networking giant certainly seems to be stacking up on its photo management tricks for users, considering the Instagram acquisition that was announced back in April this year.

The Israeli technology company being acquired by the SNS, is well known for its face recognition platform. It already has an iTunes application called Klik that lets users tag their Facebook pals in real-time. On the other side, the social network has been employing’s intelligence which allows members to tag photos without breaking a sweat, since December 2010.

“We love building products, and like our friends at Facebook, we think that mobile is a critical part of people’s lives as they both create and consume content, and share content with their social graph. By working with Facebook directly, and joining their team, we’ll have more opportunities to build amazing products that will be employed by consumers – that’s all we’ve ever wanted to do,” says the blog post announcing the acquisition.

Although the SNS has been tweaking its image tagging technology ever since the feature was released, it could obviously do with more fine-tuning. And here’s where we expect its latest conquest to offer more meaning to those who make a hobby out of sharing photos online. The precise terms of the latest agreement between the two involved parties aren’t out in the open as of now.

So what’s going to happen once Facebook acquires properly? We’re watching.

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Parents – How Should You Play Games with Your Kids?

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Why the Wii U Will Be the Best Gaming System

Nintendo altered the course of gaming history when it released its Nintendo Wii system in 2006. It hopes to do the same this fall when it releases its next generation console, Wii U. As information on features, specs, and game titles trickles out, it appears that Wii U may just be the best gaming system to ever hit the market.

When gaming giant Nintendo introduced its Wii console on November 19, 2006, it took the gaming world by storm. Before the Wii, gamers were chained to a controller featuring multiple joysticks and an overload of buttons. The premiere of the Wii console marked an important step towards reaching the ultimate goal of gaming without the need for a remote. While players still had to hold a remote, it featured only a few buttons and relied primarily on motion capture technology. Playing a baseball game and want to hit that curve all? Nintendo made hitting a home run a lot more satisfying because you must physically swing the remote at the right time, instead of merely pressing a button.

This technological advancement came at a price, however. Games were simplified and the graphics became a lot less detailed and interesting. The simplification made the console more attractive for families and individuals that did not fit the typical gamer demographic. The tradeoff for Nintendo is that hardcore gamers were not impressed by the simplified game play and migrated elsewhere, including to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and computer desktops.

Nintendo hopes that Wii U will lure back these diehard players, and judging by early reports, they’ll succeed. The first thing you’ll notice about the Wii U is that the minimalist controller has been abandoned in favor of a two-handed controller with a large screen. Older gamers will remark that it looks quite a bit like the Sega GameGear, Nintendo Game Boy’s former chief competitor. The large screen means that gamers can continue shooting aliens or complete role playing quests, even if the TV is turned off.

Unlike the current Wii, the new console will be completely connected to the internet, meaning that games will be stored on the cloud instead of memory cards. This isn’t an edge on the competitors, but it removes one of its main disadvantages. Nintendo will also offer third-party digital downloads of content.

It won’t be a cheap investment. Observers believe that the Wii U will cost at least $300, far more than current prices for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 who boast comparable computing power. While Nintendo refuses to confirm the rumors, evidence does suggest that games will remain affordable. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 titles average $60, but industry observers think Nintendo Wii U titles will stick to $49.99.

One of the first publishers to publically sign-on to releasing games for the Wii U was Ubisoft, creators of the popular “Assassin’s Creed” and “Just Dance” series. “We have been extremely happy with the functionality of the console and the use. What is really interesting is the fact that we have this tablet that allows us to bring totally new gameplay, and also brings the possibility to have a lot more social functionalities, because you can have now a screen to play asynchronously with your friends, to receive challenges and to really have a screen to communicate with your friends. That is going to help tremendously the experience in video games,” explained Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot.

Amazon has already released a list of games that will be available on Nintendo Wii U when it launches later this year. Available games include: “Darksiders II,” “DiRT,” “Aliens Colonial Marines,” “New Super Mario Bros. Mii,” “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Online,” “Metro Last Light,” “Tekken,” and “Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge.”

Do you think the Nintendo Wii U’s new controller, internet connectivity, and increased computing power to handle more complex games will make it the best gaming console on the market?

Tyler is a tech writer for

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Zynga mines arcade games with “Ruby Blast”

SAN FRANCISCO: Zynga on Tuesday sought to mine the popularity of another arcade style social game with the release of “Ruby Blast” for play at Facebook or at the company’s online arena.

The new title builds on the success of “Bubble Safari,” which rocketed to popularity on Facebook after its launch in May.

“Bubble Safari” and Zynga virtual poker game “Texas HoldEm” were the most played games at Facebook on a daily basis, according to figures from industry tracker AppData.

“Ruby Blast” was the first collaboration between Zynga’s studios in Seattle and Beijing.

“Being here in Seattle adds to the creative vision of the game and our team comes from the core videogame industry,” said Zynga Seattle design director Jonathan Grant.

“On the Beijing side they have been awesome at the execution of development and a lot of the nitty-gritty.”

Backgrounds of those on the game’s team ranged from having worked on blockbuster videogames such as “Halo” to making casual games for moms or directing an animated film set for release later this year.

“We came up with a really great combination of ideas for an overall unique experience that has really compelling game play,” Grant said.

“Ruby is a pretty unique character with some quirks unlike any other character in social games.”

The game character is Ruby Stone, described as an “awesome international intrepid archaeologist” who travels the world digging up treasures and surmounting obstacles.

Play is tried-and-true “match-three” style where beating levels and scoring points depends on quickly clicking on clusters of three or more virtual gems of the same color.

“We wanted the game to be simple and approachable; something my mom could play,” Grant said. “It is all about scoring points. The wrinkle is that you have 40 seconds to play.”

Drilling down shrewdly can unearth extra time or other “power-ups” such as extra seconds of play or blazing meteors or cherry bombs that blast away stones.

Social features in the game include a leader board that ranks friends according to high scores, with prizes awarded weekly to those in the top three positions.

Zynga planned to enable friends to compete against one another in real time.

“Ruby Blast” is the first Zynga game optimized to take advantage of graphics capabilities of Adobe Flash 11 Player to add rich animation scenes to play.

“It will feel new to players with some innovation, cool social features and a look and feel unlike anything out there on Facebook now,” Grant said.

The game was rolled out in 15 languages and could be found online at or at


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Now, you can pay real money on Facebook to buy goods

SAN FRANCISCO: It knows who you are. It knows what you like. Now it wants to make it easier for you to buy things, in your own currency.

Facebook on Tuesday signaled its ambitions to grow as a payment platform, with changes to how its users can buy goods and services without leaving its site. It was also a clear indication to Wall Street that the company was pushing to make more money. Concerns about the company’s revenue prospects have held its shares back since its disappointing public offering last month.

Until now, Facebook has had its own virtual currency, called Facebook Credits, which is used mainly to buy virtual goods in games like FarmVille. Facebook took a 30 percent cut from those sales, bringing in a hefty 15 percent of total revenue last year.

The changes announced on Tuesday are meant to encourage companies beyond game developers to sell their wares on the Facebook platform itself. They could also keep Facebook users on the site longer and harness more data about what they buy.

The changes announced are twofold. First, Facebook users will be able to subscribe to services that require monthly payments. In the past, the service allowed one-time payments only. Second, users will be able to pay for things on Facebook in their own currency, rather than credits, which is vital for Facebook because it is a global network.

“By supporting pricing in local currency, we hope to simplify the purchase experience, give you more flexibility and make it easier to reach a global audience of Facebook users who want a way to pay for your apps and games in their local currency,” Facebook said in a blog post for app developers.

The new system will allow users to plug in their credit card information once and store it on Facebook, just as they could to buy Facebook Credits. But now, with one click, they will be able to buy whatever is on offer, priced in their own currency: a magazine subscription in euros, say, or games in Indian rupees.

Currently, there isn’t much to buy on Facebook, though companies such as Spotify will be able to take immediate advantage of the monthly subscriptions and seamless payments.

The changes will begin next month, the company said, and are meant to work on mobile devices as well. They are a nod to the Apple iTunes model, where users pay in dollars and cents, not a whimsical currency. And they show how Facebook is seeking more revenue from sources other than advertising.

“They are showing us we care about driving revenue, and I think that’s great,” said Michael Pachter, an equities analyst with Wedbush Securities. “That’s what investors want to see.”

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Do computers have right to free speech?

Do machines speak? If so, do they have a constitutional right to free speech? This may sound like a fanciful question, a matter of philosophy or science fiction. But it’s become a real issue with important consequences.

In today’s world, we have delegated many of our daily decisions to computers. On the drive to work, a GPS device suggests the best route; at your desk, Microsoft Word guesses at your misspellings, and Facebook recommends new friends. In the past few years, the suggestion has been made that when computers make such choices they are “speaking,” and enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.

This is a bad idea that threatens the government’s ability to oversee companies and protect consumers. The argument that machines speak was first made in the context of Internet search. In 2003, in a civil suit brought by a firm dissatisfied with the ranking of Google’s search results, Google asserted that its search results were constitutionally protected speech. (In an unpublished opinion, the court ruled in Google’s favor.)

And this year, facing increasing federal scrutiny, Google commissioned Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, to draft a much broader and more elaborate version of the same argument. As Volokh declares in his paper: “Google, Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo! Search, and other search engines are speakers.”

To a non-lawyer the position may sound bizarre, but here is the logic. Take a newspaper advice columnist like Ann Landers: Surely her answers to readers’ questions were a form of speech. Likewise, when you turn to Google with a question, the search engine must decide, at that moment, what “answers” to give, and in what order to put those answers. If such answers are speech, then any government efforts to regulate Google, like any efforts to bowdlerize Ann Landers, must be examined as censorship.

And that’s where theory hits reality. Consider that Google has attracted attention from both antitrust and consumer protection officials after accusations that it has used its dominance in search to hinder competitors and in some instances has not made clear the line between advertisement and results.

Consider that the “decisions” made by Facebook’s computers may involve widely sharing your private information; or that the recommendations made by online markets like Amazon could one day serve as a means for disadvantaging competing publishers. Ordinarily, such practices could violate laws meant to protect consumers. But if we call computerized decisions “speech,” the judiciary must consider these laws as potential censorship, making the First Amendment, for these companies, a formidable anti-regulatory tool.

Is there a compelling argument that computerized decisions should be considered speech? As a matter of legal logic, there is some similarity among Google, Ann Landers, Socrates and other providers of answers. But if you look more closely, the comparison falters.

Socrates was a man who died for his views; computer programs are utilitarian instruments meant to serve us. Protecting a computer’s “speech” is only indirectly related to the purposes of the First Amendment, which is intended to protect actual humans against the evil of state censorship. The First Amendment has wandered far from its purposes when it is recruited to protect commercial automatons from regulatory scrutiny.

It is true that the First Amendment has been stretched to protect commercial speech (like advertisements) as well as, more controversially, political expenditures made by corporations. But commercial speech has always been granted limited protection. And while the issue of corporate speech is debatable, campaign expenditures are at least a part of the political system, the core concern of the First Amendment.

The line can be easily drawn: A, s a general rule, nonhuman or automated choices should not be granted the full protection of the First Amendment, and often should not be considered “speech” at all. (Where a human does make a specific choice about specific content, the question is different.)

Defenders of Google’s position have argued that since humans programmed the computers that are “speaking,” the computers have speech rights as if by digital inheritance. But the fact that a programmer has the First Amendment right to program pretty much anything he likes doesn’t mean his creation is thereby endowed with his constitutional rights. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster could walk and talk, but that didn’t qualify him to vote in the doctor’s place.

Computers make trillions of invisible decisions each day; the possibility that each decision could be protected speech should give us pause. To Google’s credit, while it has claimed First Amendment rights for its search results, it has never formally asserted that it has the constitutional right to ignore privacy or antitrust laws.

As a nation we must hesitate before allowing the higher principles of the Bill of Rights to become little more than lowly tools of commercial advantage. To give computers the rights intended for humans is to elevate our machines above ourselves.

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Review: Lava Xolo X900

There’s something significant about this Android smartphone from Lava – it says Intel Inside on the back cover. In fact, Lava’s Xolo is the first Android smartphone powered by an Intel processor – a processor based on Intel’s Atom processor, which still does duty in netbooks. But what does this mean for you?

The new platform is codenamed Medfield and even though it’s a single architecture, it promises performance to match and even better many dual core smartphones. Making processors for smartphones is way different from making processors for desktops or laptops. That’s why the Atom processor here is modified for higher efficiency.

The Xolo is based on an Intel reference design. This means that it looks good and performs well. The flipside to this is that there may be other phones with exactly the same design. The device itself has a smart silver-black design and an even thickness throughout – similar to the current iPhone. The bright and responsive 4-inch screen has a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution which makes it very sharp. The 8MP camera also does 1080p video in acceptable quality. Battery life is about one day with normal use. We faced no issues with call quality.

You will notice that the phone is not very thermally efficient – the lower half of the device tends to get uncomfortably warm during extended use – especially when you’re taxing it with a game or HD movie. The battery is not user replaceable and we felt the device could do with better build quality. Coming to the price – it’s roughly Rs 22,000. This puts the Xolo at a disadvantage.

On one hand, it has Samsung’s Galaxy S Plus as competition. The Galaxy S Plus will not match the Xolo in performance, but it has Samsung’s excellent Amoled screen, plus the assurance that it comes from the world’s largest cellphone maker (by unit sales). You could also consider Motorola’s Atrix 2 – a dual core Android smartphone with better build quality, dual core processor, larger display (4.3-inch vs 4-inch), expandable storage, faster camera and similar performance levels for about the same price.

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Review: Microsoft Surface straddles divide

LOS ANGELES: Microsoft seems to have gotten the design and form factor right with its new Surface tablet computer. But the user interface, not so much. That’s an odd conclusion to make about a device from a software company that usually lets others do the manufacturing.

Still, that’s how I felt after feeling the heft of the device, examining it from all sides and making a few swipes at the screen. The Surface has a touch keyboard cover that feels great and, to me, is a big step forward for tablets. The tablet’s software interface, however, seems non-intuitive and sluggish.

Microsoft is clearly straddling the uncomfortable divide between the old world of mice and keyboards, where it dominates, and a future ruled by touch screens, where Apple and Android devices prevail.

Although the Surface won’t go on sale until this fall, I had the chance to spend a few minutes with some devices in a group demonstration after Microsoft unveiled them in Los Angeles on Monday.

The removable cover comes across as a takeoff of Apple Inc.’s Smart Cover. Both snap into place perfectly with magnets. But instead of sporting foldable sections, Microsoft’s cover is rigidly flat and has a full keyboard imprinted on it. Microsoft’s cover seems central to the Surface experience, although it’s not clear if it’ll be sold separately. Apple sells Smart Cover separately starting at $39.

The cover is thin _ about a tenth of an inch, or 3 millimeters. When covering the screen, its spine covers one edge and its outer fabric makes the whole package feel like a soft book. Where it attaches to the tablet, it’s completely floppy, so it can be whipped around to close over the screen or folded back like a magazine.

The keyboard is imprinted on the inside of the cover, facing the screen. So when you open it, you can lay the cover on a table and use it to type. The letters are separated by little ridges, allowing you to feel around somewhat as you type. I have found that typing doesn’t feel right on the iPad’s glass.

The keyboard is covered with synthetic material that feels like a tennis racket handle or a high school running track, but not as grippy.

The keys themselves don’t depress as you type. Rather, there are seven layers of metal and other material inside that sense pressure and speed. When the cover is folded open entirely, covering the back, the keys stop being sensitive to touch.

Demonstrators from Microsoft told us they could type upwards of 50 words per minute, but I didn’t have access to the device long enough to test my ability to input “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”

There was another keyboard accessory with depressible keys that was 5.5 millimeters thick, or nearly twice the regular cover. It felt more comfortable for typing but didn’t seem revolutionary. You can also type on the screen, the way you can on an iPad.

Running the length of the Surface is a thin, 0.7-millimeter metal flap called the kickstand. This is what transforms the device from a tablet that you can grip to a computer you can type at while sitting at a desk or table.

Microsoft made much of the fact that the sides of this thin device are cut at 22 degree angles. It’s no big deal until you realize that the kickstand positions the tablet to lean back at 22 degrees, making the bottom edge flush with a flat surface.

The front-facing camera looks up at you, while the back camera is angled so that it points straight forward when the kickstand is extended. The back camera angle also should make it easier to shoot video or take pictures while looking down at the screen held at an angle.

As I said earlier, the tablet’s software is what disappoints.

I detected a lag when swiping, which just seems wrong on a touch screen. After all, you can see exactly where your finger is touching. If the image doesn’t come along in real time, that’s noticeable. Apple’s iPad and iPhone may still have Microsoft’s Surface beat in this regard.

Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system and its Windows RT counterpart for low-power chips are supposed to bridge the gap between touch devices and personal computers.

But the company has made a perplexing design choice by hiding crucial navigation items off the screen. Finding them requires swiping in from the sides. I would need a tutorial on what actions lead to what results. Let’s just say it is not readily apparent.

Those who have tested the software on personal computers have reported not being able to find the “Start” menu. The Surface seems to address this by putting a permanent Windows icon in the middle of the device below the screen. The icon causes a vibration when touched, which helps because it’s not a physical button.

Who would use this device?

At the announcement on Monday, CEO Steve Ballmer pounded home the message that this tablet will be as good as a PC for creating documents in a way that the iPad never was. It’s true that the iPad has such shortcomings as an inability to run multiple programs side by side, the way you can on a regular computer. Surface can run at least two at a time.

So, users would seem to be professionals who want a tablet they can use for work and play.

I find that proposition appealing, especially after lugging my heavy laptop to the press conference and having to keep a watchful eye on the dwindling battery life. (Speaking of which, Microsoft still hasn’t said anything about the Surface’s expected battery life.)

Microsoft said the low-power version using Nvidia chips will cost about the same as other tablets, while a version that runs Windows 8 Pro will cost about the same as other ultrabooks with Intel processors. The Pro version will have a stylus that allows users to make handwritten notes on documents such as PDF files. It also has an Intel processor and the option for more memory.

Surface splits the difference between a standard tablet and super-light laptops such as Apple’s MacBook Air or ultrabooks that run Windows. But typing on the Surface’s keyboard cover seems to require just that, a surface. I’m not sure how I would manage the cover keyboard and a kickstand on my lap.

Microsoft’s ultimate challenge seems to be making sure that all the programs on my current laptop _ including its range of Office software _ can run smoothly on Surface. It’s not clear yet whether it can deliver on that vision.


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