Archive for July 17th, 2012

Boston Festival of Indie Games starts on Sept. 22

A new show centered around the indie scene is set to kick off in Boston on September 22. The Boston Festival of Indie Games is taking submissions right now, gathering aspiring developers looking to show off their wares on the MIT campus this fall.

Organized by MIT Game Lab and Boston Indies at the MIT Campus, the Boston Festival of Indie Games is open to the public and, aside from giving indie developers a soapbox to stand on, will present a digital art exhibit, film screenings, a 12-hour game jam session, guest speaker presentations and a special area to showcase games made within the MIT Game Lab. Some of the names to already sign on and judge submissions are Harmonix Senior Designer Tim Stellmach, Fire Hose Games Creative Director Eitan Glinert, Zynga Boston Creative Director Paul Neurath, and Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab US Executive Director Philip Tan.

Awards will be given during the show based on public voting once cleared by the panel above. Those interested in submitting their digital game for showcase will have to pay a $10 fee if they are a student, or a $15 fee if they are a professional, by no later than August 10. If you’re making something that doesn’t fall into the digital category, you can submit it free of charge. Good luck!

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End of DNS malware saga

This day last week, the cyber world was speculating on how many people would lose their access to websites after the much-publicized shutdown by the FBI of rogue servers set up by fraudsters. The criminals had unleashed the DNS Changer malware over many years that changed the DNS setting of infected computers thereby redirecting users to fake sites instead of the real ones.

So what happened after the FBI shut down the rogue servers on July 9 at 12.01 am? How many people lost access to internet? In India, 19,642 networks were known to be infected, according to DNS Changer Working Group.
It’s impossible to accurately put a figure on internet disruption caused by the malware. All users do encounter break in connectivity for one reason or the other. Normally, it comes back on its own after a few minutes. But when the disruption is prolonged, users call up their service providers, who as part of the solution advise customers to reset their DNS settings. So it’s difficult for any user or service provider to accurately say that the internet disruption was caused by the DNS malware.

However, Trend Micro’s senior threat researcher Feike Hacquebord, going by data on infected networks, estimates that about 3 lakh users around the world would have experienced disruption. He says a much bigger disruption happened in 2008 when web hosting provider Atrivio (which was hosting the data centre of the DNS malware creators) had gone down.
The cyber world was spared of the “doomsday” that some security-paranoid netizens predicted. There are many reasons. A major one is the general awareness created over the past many months about the malware, and the planned shutdown. Security firms, companies like Google and Facebook, and service providers collaborated with other stakeholders in the DNS Changer Working Group to clean up the cyber mess. They sent out warning notes and tips to users whose computers had been infected.

Another reason is that security solutions have either blocked DNS Changer malware intrusion attempts or removed the malware from infected computers. Kaspersky Labs says that this year alone, it detected 1,01,964 attempts by DNS Changer malware to infect its users.

So, in all probability, the curtains are down on one of the longest-running and most widespread cyber crimes we have seen.

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Skype calls instant-message privacy bug ‘rare’

NEW YORK: Online calling service Skype has confirmed that a bug that has caused instant messages to be sent to the wrong contacts.

Skype, which is owned by Microsoft Corp., said in a statement Monday that only a “small number of users” are affected. It called the bug a “rare occurrence” but did not go into details about what caused it or exactly how many people were affected.

Skype says it will send out a software update that fixes the problem in the next few days. It plans to notify users once the update is available.

The bug was first described in Skype’s online support forums and reported in various technology blogs. Skype says it occurs when a user’s Skype program crashes during an instant message session. In some cases, this can lead to the last IM that person sent being sent to a different contact after they restart the program.

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Facebook turning teens into gambling addicts: Experts

LONDON: With a burst of casino-type games on Facebook, experts have warned that the social networking site is turning youngsters into gambling addicts. According to addiction experts in the UK, these type of games encourage teenagers to think gambling is harmless fun. Children are using ‘virtual coins’ to imitate the thrill of hitting the jackpot with slot machine and roulette games on their home computers and mobile phones, the ‘Daily Mail’ reported. At present Facebook provides hundreds of virtual slot machine and poker games, including Jackpotjoy, Slotomania and DoubleDownCasino. Zynga, which accounts for 12 per cent of all Facebook’s revenues due to its popular games such as FarmVille, has also launched Zynga Slots in the UK last month. Facebook has three million UK users aged between 13, which is the lower age limit for registration, and 17. But a further one million are estimated to be under 13 and pretending to be older. The legal age for gambling in Britain is 18. Dr Carolyn Downs, from the University of Salford, was warned when her 13-year-old daughter became upset at losing virtual money on the game ‘Fluff Friends’. “It’s well-established that the younger the children start gambling, the more likely it is they will become habitual gamblers and also problem gamblers,” she said. “It’s a long-term, life-long risk. What we’re doing is setting up these kids to be problem gamblers as they go through life,” she was quoted as saying by the paper. Although the gambling games are free, users are encouraged to spend money if they want to keep gambling or increase jackpots. A UK-based charity, GamCare wants the Gambling Commission to investigate social gaming. “This is a really rapidly-moving area. We need to think through very carefully any risks that it presents particularly for young people,” Policy and development director Mandy Barrie said. “There is a link between early exposure to gambling and developing a problem in adulthood,” he added. The Gambling Commission is ‘monitoring developments’ with regard to virtual gaming which it believes to be ‘at the perimeter of current legislation’, the paper reported. A Facebook spokesman said, “In addition to complying with local law, all applications on Facebook are required to operate within the bounds of our developer guidelines.”

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YouTube becoming major news platform: Study

WASHINGTON: YouTube, the Google-owned video sharing website, has become a major platform around the world for news, posing challenges to media organizations, a study said Monday.

The Pew Research Center report said that news related events were the most searched items on YouTube in five months of a 15-month period in 2011 and early 2012.

That means that news is rapidly becoming important on the site, which is popularly known for amateur videos of children and pets.

Certain events like the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011 highlighted that point, the study found, with 96 million views of disaster-related news over a one-week period in March 2011.

The report found news viewership on YouTube is probably still outpaced by the audience for news on conventional television.

“But YouTube is a place where consumers can determine the news agenda for themselves and watch the videos at their own convenience — a form of ‘on demand’ video news,” the Pew report said.

“In the case of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, audience interest continued for weeks. The disaster remained among the top-viewed news subjects for three straight weeks. Based on the most viewed videos each week listed by YouTube, it also was the biggest news story on the site for 2011.”

Pew said that for the news industry, this shift to online news viewing represent “a significant opportunity and also a challenge.”

“News producers can use the site to grow their audience, find citizen-created videos, build their brand and generate revenue,” it said.

“At the same time, video-sharing sites are yet another platform they must understand — and to which they must adapt.”

The video sharing site is now the third most visited destination online, behind only Google, which owns YouTube, and Facebook.

According to the company’s own statistics, more than 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. The site gets over four billion video views a day.

In news on YouTube, so-called citizen reports represented 39 percent of videos. Some 51 percent bore the logo of a news organization, but some of that footage appeared to have been originally shot by users rather than journalists.

Five percent came from corporate and political groups, and the origin of another five percent was not identified.

“Citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them,” the report said.

“They are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals. And news organizations are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism. Consumers, in turn, seem to be embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television news.”

Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion.

The Mountain View, California-based Internet search and advertising giant has not yet announced a profit for the video-sharing site despite its massive global popularity.

YouTube has been gradually adding professional content such as full-length television shows and movies to its vast trove of amateur video offerings in a bid to attract advertisers.

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Thin, wearable, foldable- meet the new age tablet

SAN FRANCISCO: Tablets with paper-thin screens that can be folded and tucked into your back pocket, artificial intelligence and augmented reality — the stuff of science fiction may be coming to a store near you. It’s been two years since Apple Inc launched the iPad and spawned rival tablets from the likes of Samsung Electronics Co, Inc, Sony Corp , and now Google Inc and Microsoft Corp . Much of the competition so far has centered on making smartphone and tablets lighter, slimmer, faster and longer-running than their predecessors, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. The increasingly crowded marketplace is also galvanizing hardware designers and software engineers to explore new technologies that may revolutionize the look and feel of mobile devices in coming years. “We should think beyond just the touch-screen device,” said Lin Zhong, a professor at Rice University who does research on mobile systems. “Why do we have to hold tablets, carry many displays? We should think about wearable computers.” Some researchers are experimenting with wearable devices, such as Google Glass, a stamp-sized electronic screen mounted on eyeglass frames to record video, access email and surf the Web. Others, like Microsoft, are investigating the use of 3-D cameras to create images that pop up when a person calls. Samsung has a concept video that shows a bendable, transparent 3-D smartphone-hybrid tablet that can also be used as a real-time interpreter. Few of these new technologies will hit store shelves any time soon – companies and researchers are more actively working on touchscreen innovations in the near term. In particular, organic-light-emitting diodes, or OLED, is widely touted as the successor to liquid crystal displays. OLED displays, such as in Samsung’s Galaxy Note smartphone, are lighter, thinner and tougher than current displays. The main attraction of OLED at first are their ruggedness, but the technology could one day allow tablets to be folded or rolled up like a newspaper. Reaching that point poses challenges like making the delicate chips and components inside them more flexible and resistant to damage. “Flexible and foldable displays will first be implemented on smaller sizes like smartphones,” said Rhoda Alexander, IHS iSuppli’s tablet analyst. “Tablets may follow in a later progression, once manufacturing costs and yields have been tested.” An unfolding NewSSlate concept developed by Innovation+Bermer Labs shows a foldable tablet that one can use to read news and watch videos. These are not expected to be ready for prime time for another few years. NEXT UP: WRAPAROUND GLASS Apart from experimenting with various materials in their own labs, manufacturers are partnering with premier academic institutions in their quest for the most interactive screens. Samsung is working with Stanford University’s chemical engineering department, and Microsoft is working with Rice University. Professor Zhenan Bao’s team at Stanford has developed stretchable, super-sensitive and solar-powered “electronic skin,” or sensors that can feel a touch as light as that of a fly. One of its obvious applications is in touchscreens, and Bao said the research has generated a lot of inquiries from companies. “Right now there is a lot of interest in having sensors in the screen that can have pressure input for the touchscreen,” Bao said. “Companies are also basically looking for replacement material for the current silicon that is cheaper and compatible with plastic substrate but has the same performance level.” Specialty glass company Corning Inc, famous for its “gorilla glass” used in Apple devices, has an ultra-slim flexible glass called “willow glass” that has the potential to enable displays to be wrapped around a device. Corning said it is currently shipping samples of willow glass, which is compatible with OLED displays, to companies. SIZE MATTERS, FOR NOW Each new generation of tablets boasts big improvements in pixel density and image quality, making photos, games and movies more life-like. Manufacturers and software designers have made less progress finding ways to let computers give physical, tactile feedback — but they’re working on it. The stakes are high as tablets become more and more integrated with smartphones and other devices at home. Betting on the right technology and features is imperative, since the still-new category has already claimed many victims, including Hewlett Packard’s Touchpad tablet that was killed last year after only a few months on the market. With many companies entering the fray, vying to take share away from Apple’s iPad, those who get it right may end up influencing the way people communicate and consume all media. For now, size and price is where most manufacturers are competing as they try to break the dominance of Apple in the tablet market. Six out of 10 tablets sold are iPads. “The big open area that is left to tackle is truly great input,” said Tony Fadell, co-founder and chief executive officer of Nest Thermostat, who previously led the team at Apple that created 18 generations of iPods and three generations of the iPhone. “There is tactile input as well as voice input. Those are the two inputs that still need to be addressed in tablets,” Fadell said. In a recent patent application related to tactile, or haptic, technology, Apple in May outlined how features could be added to a screen that would make it possible to alter the feel of its surface. Manufacturers are also working to improve gesture recognition, augmented reality and voice controls like Apple’s Siri. IBM Fellow Bernie Meyerson expects major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence in the next several years. He envisions people having real, spoken conversations with their devices, which will boast technology much more advanced than IBM’s Watson computer that defeated two champions on the Jeopardy gameshow last year. “You hand it to your grandmother and it just works. It will adapt, tune itself to your voice,” Meyerson said. “You’ll have something that you carry around in your pocket and it listens to you when you want it to.” Laser projection keyboard devices that connect to mobile devices by Bluetooth are already available, although some say the technology is still buggy. In June, Microsoft unveiled its Surface tablet, with a 10.6 inch display and a protective cover that doubles as a keyboard. Other new and upcoming improvements in tablet hardware are seen as attractive but less important differentiators. At an industry event in Madrid earlier this year, manufacturers dunked tablets and smartphones in aquariums to show off new waterproof coatings. Intel Corp recently showed off “ultrabook” laptops with screens that swivel from their keyboards or detach completely to act as tablets.

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Nokia cuts US price of Lumia 900 Windows phone to $49.99

Nokia Oyj has cut the U.S. price of its flagship smartphone in half, barely three months after its launch, in an effort to stanch losses in market share to rivals such as Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co.

The cost of the Lumia 900 Windows phone has been reduced to $49.99 from $99 with a two-year agreement, Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak said on Sunday.

Nokia’s phone is sold at AT&T Inc stores. Nowak said the price cut “is part of our ongoing lifecycle management, which is jointly done between Nokia and carrier customers.”

The spokesman also said a price cut is not unusual at this time in a smartphone’s life cycle, noting that Samsung has cut the price for its Galaxy S II, launched before the Lumia 900.

Once the world’s dominant mobile phone provider, Nokia was late to embrace smartphones, and has also been losing market share in less expensive mobile phones.

Featuring a 4.3-inch screen, 1.4-gigahertz processor and 8-megapixel camera, the Lumia 900 uses largely untried software from Microsoft Corp.

Sales have been slow, and Nokia took a further hit when Microsoft said current phones will be unable to run its new Windows 8 software, rendering them obsolete.

Last month, Nokia said it would cut 10,000 jobs, and that its handset business would post a larger-than-expected quarterly loss. All three major credit rating agencies have downgraded Nokia to “junk” status.

Smartphones using Google Inc’s Android system are expected to comprise 61 percent of the global market in 2012, while Apple’s iPhone could capture more than 20 percent, International Data Corp said last month.

Nokia is expected to report second-quarter results on July 19. Analysts polled by Reuters last week expect a loss in the handset business of 236 million euros ($289 million), up from 127 million euros ($156 million) in the first quarter.

Shares of Nokia closed Friday at 1.51 euros, after earlier in the week falling to their lowest since the mid-1990s. They have slid nearly 95 percent since November 2007.

1 euro = US$1.225

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