Friday, February 18, 2011

PSN hack lets users unban themselves, ban others

This game of one-upmanship between Sony and the PS3 modders is getting seriously heated. Responding to the news that Sony was permabanning modded consoles, a new hack claims to worm into the PSN and allow people to unban themselves.
The hack can also be used to ban another console, although they'd need access to that console's ID, which would have to be obtained from a refurb warehouse/secondhand seller or willingly given up by an idiot.
The mod scene is justifying its actions by calling Sony bullies and criticizing its strong-arm tactics. Sony, of course, is sticking by its EULA and claiming to protect its interests.
Whichever side you find righteous, there is no denying that this war is going to get even more bitter -- and likely more idiotic -- before it's all said and done.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

HP TouchPad, first take: Kudos and cynicism

HP TouchPad, first take: Kudos and cynicism

HP's Touchpad has the makings of a successful tablet, a year ago.
(Credit: HP)
The TouchPad is an exciting reveal for HP, but how does its hardware compare with the current and future competition? Let's dive in to find out.


First the display. The HP TouchPad's 9.7-inch capacitive touch display has a resolution of 1,024x768. That matches the resolution of the current Apple iPad, but is trumped by the Motorola Xoom's announced 1,280x800 resolution. In person, the TouchPad delivers a pleasant picture, but we were unsure whether the screen uses an IPS panel like the iPad or a TN panel like most tablets. An IPS panel would provide much better, clearer viewing of the screen at off angles.
The TouchPad uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.2GHz processor as its brains. This, compared with the 1GHz ARM found in the iPad and the Xoom's dual core Nvidia Tegra 2 1GHz. Now when it comes to CPUs, specs and numbers are one thing, but what those specs actually deliver is another thing altogether. During our limited time watching an HP rep navigate through the OS today, we did notice some sluggishness, but until we actually get our hands on the final hardware with a fully optimized OS, we won't know just how fast the TouchPad is.

The TouchPad includes only a single 1.2MP front-facing camera, with no back-facing camera (compared to the Xoom with its 5MP and 2MP front- and back- facing shooters). The current iPad has no camera. With front- and rear-facing cameras becoming the norm on smartphones and tablets, we're quite surprised HP doesn't offer more here.
HP also demonstrated a new level of synergy between its WebOS devices. The TouchPad can instantly sync to your Palm Pre 3. Let's say you're visiting a site on your TouchPad and realize you have to leave in a hurry. Simply touch your Pre 3 to the TouchPad's sensor. The Pre 3 will instantly open the same URL you're visiting on the TouchPad. Using this feature, you'll also be able to receive (and answer) texts and phone calls on your TouchPad.
While definitely a neat feature that seemed to work well, to use it you'll have to fully buy into the HP WebOS ecosystem. This may be more than what some are planning for.
One thing we appreciated was the TouchPad's wireless Bluetooth keyboard (sold separately) that will allow you to bypass the virtual keyboard and type like a person who means business. Also, the cellular models of the TouchPad will include support for A-GPS.
Looking at the TouchPad, we saw no evidence of a video-out feature. This is another curious omission in a world in which even smartphones are pushing out 1080p content onto 50-inch screens.
The touchstone charging station will function similarly to the Palm Pre's version and, according to HP, you'll simply place the TouchPad on the touchstone and it will begin charging, without connecting any wires.
This brings us to the question of battery life. Our guess is that HP isn't happy with what they're currently getting in their internal labs testing or they would have at least alluded to a number. A dual-core CPU will likely draw a lot of juice, but of course it will depend on what the tablet is doing and more importantly, the luminance level of the screen during those activities.


A tablet's hardware specs are critical for a smooth user experience, but ultimately, the best tablet hardware should feel invisible. It's really all about your interaction with the OS and how well the interface gels with the way you work, browse, and communicate.
HP's WebOS (originally developed by Palm) looks right at home on the TouchPad's 9.7-inch screen. Its core apps, such as e-mail, Web browser, photos, calendar, media playback, and chat are all optimized to make the best use of the large screen size, using a system of panes and collapsing menus similar to what we've seen on the iPad, BlackBerry PlayBook, and Motorola Xoom. It feels like a proper tablet OS--not a rushed repurposing of smartphone software.
The home screen, which has changed little from the original Palm Pre, uses a refreshingly simple interface. For better or worse, you're not dealing with screen upon screen of apps as you would on the iPad. Instead, the TouchPad's home screen is more like a conventional desktop, allowing you space to flip between open applications. As many devoted Palm Pre owners will tell you, it's a smart system, and one that nailed multitasking on mobile devices long before the iPhone and iPad.
That said, in spite of the history behind WebOS, it's still a fairly young operating system compared with the rapid development of Android and iOS. From the looks of it, HP has clearly spent some time polishing the software, but it will have to contend with the increasingly sophisticated demands of today's consumers. There's only so much we can glean from the best-case-scenario product demo we saw today. Every OS has its weaknesses, and HP's will undoubtedly come to light sooner or later.
One of the easiest jabs to take at WebOS is app support. With the platform treading water for the past year, HP's WebOS app catalog hasn't experienced the same explosive growth as Apple's or Google's. HP will need to play catch-up quickly, and like Google, will need to find a way to fork development of apps for both tablets and the smaller screens of smartphones. HP has aligned itself with some big-name partners, such as Time Warner, Facebook,, Rovio (Angry Birds), and the NBA, promising some high-end apps for launch, but only time will tell if the company can spark interest with the larger developer community.
Apart from the limited selection of apps and the predictably iPad-esque core features of WebOS on the TouchPad, there are some unique features worth calling attention to. The one that drew the most applause from the crowd during the unveiling was the synchronization of text messages between the TouchPad and a WebOS smartphone.
Provided that both your smartphone and TouchPad are on the same home network, you could theoretically receive and reply to text messages on your Wi-Fi-only TouchPad from the comfort of your couch. Granted, it's a neat feature, but it's likely to be a rare user who finds himself early-adopting both a WebOS phone and tablet this year. This same combo of kudos and cynicism can be laid against HP's touch-to-share technology, which allows you to share URL's between your TouchPad and WebOS phone by placing them on top of one another.
Another unique feature we're both hot and cold on is the adjustable touch-screen keyboard sizing. HP included the option to resize the keyboard directly from a contextual menu on the keyboard. It's a nice customization, and the demo drew plenty of "ooohs" from the audience. Upon further consideration, though, we wonder how often we'll really find ourselves changing this setting, and whether its customization might be better kept out of the way in some general settings menu. We'll see.
The keyboard also has the notable distinction of including a row of numeric keys across the top, similar to a conventional computer keyboard. These keys are smaller than the text keys, and take a pill-like form--but they should save you the headache of switching between dedicated letter and number keyboards.
HP's "Just Type" feature for WebOS.
(Credit: HP)
The last WebOS feature we'll call out here is one HP calls Just Type. The premise is that users can simply pick up the device and start typing anything--the name of a restaurant, a status update, a song name--and the TouchPad will present you with a list of options for the text, such as performing a Web search, posting to Facebook, searching through e-mail, and more. It's a neat feature, in theory, that dovetails nicely with the instant-on appeal of tablets.


We're definitely seeing the potential for a new device and a new tablet OS to challenge the iPad, and there's no reason the TouchPad can't do the job. It will face some heavy competition from Android Honeycomb tablets such as the Motorola Xoom, and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, but it should be able to stand on its own as a viable competitor.
That said, as with any new mobile device these days, the unknowns of pricing, battery life, and availability, plus possible carrier lock-ins, could all possibly derail customer enthusiasm. Let's hope HP has the brand power and the good judgment to navigate these potential pitfalls.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sprint Unveils Dual-Screen Android Smartphone

NEW YORK (WSJ)Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) unveiled a smartphone with a twin set of touchscreens late Monday, in a bid to replace its aging high-end devices.

The device, called the Echo, is made by Kyocera Corp.'s (KYO, 6971.TO) U.S. unit and features two 3.5-inch touchscreens that can be stacked side by side to form a pseudo-tablet design. Users can accomplish multiple tasks or programs on the two screens, or drag items from one screen to the other.

The phone, which runs on Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android software, uses a pivot hinge that allows one screen to be tucked under the other, transforming it into a more conventional touchscreen phone. It will be available in the spring for $199.99.

Sprint is hoping the Echo's unique design will drum up more attention for the company's products and services at a time when the carrier needs more high-end devices to replace its two marquee phones, the HTC Corp. (2498.TW) Evo and the Samsung Electronics Co. (005930.SE) Epic, which are beginning to show their age at a time when most smartphones have a shelf life of only a few months.

"Having a new halo device for Sprint will be critical for them to maintain their momentum," said Daniel Hays, who covers telecom for consulting firm PRTM. "Sprint's smartphone line-up is definitely in a need of a refresh."

Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse unveiled the Echo at an event in Manhattan Monday night. Taking a page from Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) playbook, the company sent invitations featuring a magical motif, teasing what the company "has up its sleeve" and hiring magician David Blaine to perform at the event.

Touting the Echo's ability to handle multiple tasks, Hesse said, "Extreme multitasking can be magical."

Sprint's largest advantage--its loudly touted fourth-generation wireless service--has been steadily evaporating as its rivals begin to trumpet their own speedy next-generation wireless services. Last year, the company rode the success of the Evo 4G and the Epic, which were touted as the only 4G phones in the market. The two devices were critical to the company turning around its contract subscriber losses.

The company reports its fourth-quarter results on Thursday. Wall Street expects it to report a loss of 30 cents a share and revenue of $8.16 billion.

Sprint's only recently launched phone is the HTC Evo Shift, a $150 device designed to appeal to more consumers. The company also said last month it would carry the Research in Motion Ltd. (RIMM) Playbook tablet. While the Playbook and Evo Shift run on the 4G network, the upcoming Echo is a 3G device.

Sprint's competitors, however, are preparing a wave of competitive devices. Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. (T) and T-Mobile USA used the Consumer Electronics Show in January to showcase phones and tablets that are coming out over the next few months. On Thursday, Verizon Wireless will begin to sell the Apple iPhone.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How Kraft’s Face-Scanning Tech Will Tell You What You Like to Eat

(mashable)After a harried day in the office, meal planning may be the last thing on your mind. It might be evident on your face, though.

That’s the premise behind an interactive technology Kraft and Intel recently introduced called the “Meal Planning Solution.” The kiosk-like display, which is likely to show up in at least one retail location this year, is meant to help weary shoppers find new recipes during last-minute grocery trips.

Forget filling out a profile of favorite recipes and ingredients, though — this bad boy scans your face to figure out what you may be interested in cooking. For even more customized results, a user can choose to pull in purchase history data through her grocery store loyalty card, her shopping list on Kraft’s iFood Assistant mobile app, or her recipe-browsing history on

To get a better look at the research and technology behind the solution center, we spoke with Don King, Kraft’s VP of retail experience, Chris O’Malley, Intel’s director of retail marketing for the embedded and communications group, and Jose Avalos, Intel’s director of retail and digital signage for the embedded and communications group. Read on for an in-depth look at how the solution center works and what Kraft and Intel aim to accomplish with it.

Houdini's Skeptical Advice: Just Because Something's Unexplained Doesn't Mean It's Supernatural

(scientific american)Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the brilliant author of the wildly popular Sherlock Holmes detective stories, which celebrated the triumph of reason and logic over superstition and magical thinking. Unfortunately, the Scottish physician-turned-writer did not apply his creation’s cognitive skills when it came to the blossoming spiritualism movement of the early 1900s: he fell blindly for the crude hoax of the Cottingley Fairies photographs and regularly attended séances to make contact with family members who had died in the First World War, especially his son Kingsley. Perhaps fittingly, Conan Doyle’s fame brought him into company with the greatest magician of his age, Harry Houdini, who did not suffer fakes gladly.

In the spring of 1922 Conan Doyle visited Houdini in his New York City home, whereupon the magician set out to demonstrate that slate writing—a favorite method among mediums for receiving messages from the dead, who allegedly moved a piece of chalk across a slate—­could be done by perfectly prosaic means. Houdini had Conan Doyle hang a slate from anywhere in the room so that it was free to swing in space. He presented the author with four cork balls, asking him to pick one and cut it open to prove that it had not been altered. He then had Conan Doyle pick another ball and dip it into a well of white ink. While it was soaking, Houdini asked his visitor to go down the street in any direction, take out a piece of paper and pencil, write a question or a sentence, put it back in his pocket and return to the house. Conan Doyle complied, scribbling, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” a riddle from the Bible’s book of Daniel, meaning, “It has been counted and counted, weighed and divided.”

How appropriate, for what happened next defied explanation, at least in Conan Doyle’s mind. Houdini had him scoop up the ink-soaked ball in a spoon and place it against the slate, where it momentarily stuck before slowly rolling across the face, spelling out “M,” “e,” “n,” “e,” and so forth until the entire phrase was completed, at which point the ball dropped to the ground. According to William Kalush and Larry Sloman in their 2006 biography The Secret Life of Houdini (Atria Books), the Master Mystifier then dealt Conan Doyle the lesson that he—and by implication anyone impressed by such mysteries—needed to hear:

Sir Arthur, I have devoted a lot of time and thought to this illusion ... I won’t tell you how it was done, but I can assure you it was pure trickery. I did it by perfectly normal means. I devised it to show you what can be done along these lines. Now, I beg of you, Sir Arthur, do not jump to the conclusion that certain things you see are necessarily “supernatural,” or the work of “spirits,” just because you cannot explain them....

Lamentably, Sir Arthur continued to believe that Houdini had psychic powers and spiritual connections that he employed in his famous escapes.

This problem is called the argument from ignorance (“it must be true because it has not been proven false”) or sometimes the argument from personal incredulity (“because I cannot imagine a natural explanation, there cannot be one”). Such fallacious reasoning comes up so often in my encounters with believers that I conclude it must be a product of a brain unsatisfied with doubt; as nature abhors a vacuum, so, too, does the brain abhor no explanation. It therefore fills in one, no matter how unlikely. Thus do normal anomalies become paranormal, natural phenomena become supernatural, unidentified flying objects become extraterrestrial spacecraft and chance events become conspiracies.

Houdini’s principle states that just because something is unexplained does not mean that it is paranormal, supernatural, extraterrestrial or conspiratorial. Before you say something is out of this world, first make sure that it is not in this world, for science is grounded in naturalism, not supernaturalism, paranormalism or any other unnecessarily complicated explanations.

Warner to Raise Content License Fees for Netflix, Redbox

(home media)Describing the digital transition of filmed entertainment as Time Warner Inc.’s most dynamic business unit, CEO Jeff Bewkes Feb. 2 said Warner Bros. would aggressively pursue increasing content license fees charged to Netflix, Redbox and other related distribution services.

In an analyst call discussing fourth-quarter fiscal results, Bewkes said Warner Home Video’s 28-day delay for new releases to Netflix and Redbox has been successful, but is not enough, considering Netflix’s burgeoning growth and changing consumer behavior toward home entertainment.

“The current pricing and window are not really commensurate with the value that those kinds of availability are extracting,” Bewkes said. “We think that the value our [studios] should get for that period of exhibition is considerably higher than what's there now.”

The CEO said the studio would look at the economics of the entire home video category, including introducing premium VOD in the second quarter. He didn't indentify the select new release movies Warner plans on releasing 60 days after their theatrical bow through all major channels, including cable and satellite TV.

Premium VOD is Hollywood’s newest marketing effort aimed at generating higher margins from consumers willing to pay extra to watch select theatrical releases in the home weeks before the disc release.

Theatrical movies typically enter the home entertainment window up to 120 days after release.

Bewkes said all Warner theatrical releases in 2011 would be compatible to digital locker Ultraviolet, which allows consumers to virtually store digital and physical media acquisitions playable on myriad devices.

“Ultraviolet should dramatically boost the appeal of owning movies,” Bewkes said.

Ghostbusters 3: Bizarre Delay

Ghostbusters 3: Updates On A Weird Delay

It's been a rough, weird road for highly-anticipated sequel Ghostbusters 3, but the film is coming along. However, it's not without a share of time-consuming issues. -- Namely, in this case, Bill Murray's task-managing skills. So, how did the production find itself in this predicament? Well, as far as the process of getting the film off the ground, the hard part is already done as Sony Pictures has already given its stamp of approval and a script by the scribe team of Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (The Office, Year One), overlooked by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd has been finished for quite a while. However, the folks behind the film have been waiting handily for its prospective star, Murray to actually read the thing! Apparently, it's become such a problem that the reported May date to begin filming might have to be pushed back. One of the scribes, Eisenberg and producer Joe Medjuck have recently revealed some details on this bizarre obstacle to our third sojourn into the world of bustin' ghosts.

As Eisenberg, speaking at his alma mater Connecticut College updates:

“Right now, we have a script we haven’t worked on probably in a couple of months, and we’re waiting for Bill Murray to read it. People seem excited about it, and the studio seems high on it. … We’re very proud of it. We worked really hard on it, and I think it’d be a really fun movie.”

The writer reveals how working closely with director Ivan Reitman, along with Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd on the project has crafted the script into something that has become "tighter and funnier" than before. For him, it was clear that Ghostbusters was as beloved a franchise as one can find and that, growing up on the films himself, "the last thing you want to do, is disappoint." In fact, last month, Ivan Reitman himself, seemingly proud of the script as well, also made comment of the fact the process at this point, only awaited Billy Murray to finally read the script he was given.

Also shedding some light on the situation, producer Joe Medjuck fielded questions about the film after a screening of the first Ghostbusters film at Hollywood's ArcLight Cinema. Besides confirming the whole "waiting for Bill Murray" narrative, he actually stuck up for the actor, noting his busy schedule and his eccentric style of handling business.

"Harold [Ramis] tells a very funny story about the several months it took to get Bill to read the script for Groundhog Day. Every week or so, [Bill] would go up to Harold and say, “You know, I read 10 pages… they’re really good. Is it going to stay this good?" Adding: "He hasn’t even read 10 pages [of Ghostbusters 3] yet, to the best of our knowledge."

Oddly enough, though, nailing him down for the first Ghostbusters film was apparently not quite the ordeal:

"Bill just committed to it… he just said yes. He went to India to make The Razor’s Edge. I don’t think he even read the script [for Ghostbusters] until he arrived back, [and] the day he came back, we shot with him.”

(g4)So, how will they ever get Ghostbusters 3 back on track? I guess....if you happen to run into Bill Murray, just tell him to read the damn thing. The time for the excuses like "he's washing his hair" or "he has a power yoga class" have ended! As the poet laureate Bobby Brown once said in his Ghostbusters 2 musical composition: "Well I guess we're gonna have to take control."

What's your outlook on Ghostbusters 3 right now? Is it going to happen with Bill Murray? Could it be done without him?

Source: ScreenRant

Verizon Iphone Confirmed

If you believe Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg's version of events, his company's wireless division wasn't even in the running for the iPhone years ago when Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) was first shopping the device around to carriers. Other reports tell a different story, but either way, the fact that Verizon had to wait nearly four years to offer its customers the iPhone had its advantages and disadvantages. On the down side, it really gave a customer Increase sales with VerticalResponse. Free trial. boost to its biggest rival, AT&T (NYSE: T). On the upside, though, the competition did motivate Verizon to invest in a strong competitor to Apple's platform, Android, which it's helped become a major force in mobile.

It also got to sit back and watch as the iPhone's popularity and AT&T's response to the pressures placed on its network turned into a nightmare. The volume of complaints about spotty or just-not-there AT&T cellular service reached huge proportions, and pretty soon people were practically begging Verizon to carry the iPhone just so they could get a call through.

Now that day has come -- Verizon has started taking preorders, and devices will arrive on the 10th. But Verizon has learned a thing or two from watching AT&T make a mess of itself. Just as preorders were coming in, the company announced a few small changes it was making to its network's data system.

First, it's going to make a few tweaks to the way it handles files, which could result in a small change in the way videos look when they're streamed to Verizon devices. This applies to all data users, iPhone or otherwise.

Secondly, it's going to start throttling the data hogs. If you're among the 5 percent of Verizon's heaviest data users, expect to see slower data transfers on your phone.

If you're a Net neutrality booster, the word "throttling" might have just given you flashbacks to a few years ago when Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSK) was caught throttling heavy BitTorrent users. But remember that Comcast did emerge from that case without too many cuts or bruises, and at least here Verizon's being upfront about it, rather than secretly doing it like Comcast did. And perhaps Verizon just knows it probably can get away with it. The most recent set of guidelines the FCC has come up with allow for reasonable discrimination of Web traffic, whatever that means, and they allow wireless carriers to get away with a lot more than wired service providers.