Saturday, July 30, 2011

Daily Crunch: Desert Surveillance Edition


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Officials: 7 killed in attack on Egypt town

Hundreds of militants stormed a coastal Egyptian town riding on pickups and motorcycles, and shooting and throwing rocks at police and soldiers during clashes that left seven dead, officials said.


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Gillmor Gang 7.30.11 (TCTV)

The Gillmor Gang ? Danny Sullivan, Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor ? covered the gamut between Google+ and well, Google+. The new social platform continues to delight and confound the early adopters in record numbers. @scobleizer remains optimistic that the search giant will roll out filtering features to cut down on the noise of squids, kittens, and well, Scoble comment farms. @dannysullivan would prefer Google unleash the hounds of celebrity and brands, surprised as he and we are that the Plus team was caught flatfooted by the viral adoption of the field trial, or whatever Danny calls it. When we (Danny and I) started complaining about the lack of iPad support and Robert about the perils of high speed Scoble flow via the iPhone, @kevinmarks pointed out the ANdroid support sucked for tablets in general. All in all, much to look forward to and little or no competition from Facebook for Google to worry about.


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Technology + Politics = Facepalm

Oh, how embarrassing. Earlier this week, Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada's Green Party, took to her Twitter account and declared war on wi-fi. To think I very nearly voted for these clowns in our recent election. Lesson for my American friends: just because you find all the major parties unpalatable doesn't mean that the fringe parties aren't even worse. Meanwhile, can someone please get an environmental movement going that isn't anti-science and anti-technology? Give her credit: she did manage, with rare ability, to hit not just one but all of the "idiot politician talking about science/technology" notes: 1. Moral panic: "It is very disturbing how quickly WiFi has moved into schools as it is children who are the most vulnerable." 2. Deluded citation of long-disproven theories: "It is one prevailing theory re disappearance of pollinating insects." 3. Misleading deception that comes this close to outright lying: "The World Health Org lists EMF as a possible human carcinogen."


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Enjoy Park Greenery, City Says, but Not as Salad

Enjoy Park Greenery, City Says, but Not as Salad

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Leda Meredith, right, who wrote a book about eating locally on a budget, leads tours in Prospect Park about foraging.

Published: July 29, 2011

Maybe it is the spiraling cost of food in a tough economy or the logical next step in the movement to eat locally. Whatever the reason, New Yorkers are increasingly fanning out across the city?s parks to hunt and gather edible wild plants, like mushrooms, American ginger and elderberries.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Ruby Harris, 9, of Brooklyn, inspecting an edible plant on a foraging tour of Prospect Park.

Now parks officials want them to stop. New York?s public lands are not a communal pantry, they say. In recent months, the city has stepped up training of park rangers and enforcement-patrol officers, directing them to keep an eye out for foragers and chase them off.

?If people decide that they want to make their salads out of our plants, then we?re not going to have any chipmunks,? said Maria Hernandez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages Central Park.

Plants are not the only things people are taking. In Prospect Park in Brooklyn last week, park rangers issued four summonses to two people for illegal fishing. Although officials say such poaching is not widespread, park advocates say taking fish and turtles for food is not uncommon, and some have reported evidence of traps designed to snare wildfowl.

Foraging used to be a quirky niche, filled most notably by ?Wildman? Steve Brill, who for years has led foraging tours in the Northeast, including in Central Park. (He now sells a foraging app, too.) But foragers today are an eclectic bunch, including downtown hipsters, recent immigrants, vegans and people who do not believe in paying for food.

Even those who would never dream of plucking sassafras during a walk in the park can read about it. The magazine Edible Manhattan has an ?Urban Forager? column (as does The New York Times?s City Room blog). And the current issue of Martha Stewart Living features a colorful spread about foraging on Ms. Stewart?s property in Maine ? but at least all those plants belong to her.

While it has long been against the rules to collect or destroy plants in the city?s parks, with potential fines of $250, the city has preferred education to enforcement. ?It?s listed in the prohibited uses of the parks, and the simple reason is that if everyone went out and collected whatever it is ? a blackberry or wildflower ? the parks couldn?t sustain that,? said Sarah Aucoin, director of urban park rangers for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Officials have not gone as far as posting signs in Central Park that foraging is prohibited, for fear they would serve as arrows pointing to the most delectable areas. Ms. Hernandez of the park conservancy would take a reporter on a tour of edible plants only on the condition that their locations not be revealed.

For their part, regular foragers ? especially those who write and teach about the practice ? say that they are sensitive to the environment and that they focus on renewable items like leaves and berries. Besides, they say, much of their quarry comes from invasive species that squeeze out native plants.

?You?re almost doing the ecosystem in the park a favor by harvesting them,? said Leda Meredith, who wrote ?The Locavore?s Handbook: The Busy Person?s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget,? which includes a chapter on foraging. Ms. Meredith, who leads tours in Prospect Park, says 70 percent of the plants she collects are nonnative and invasive.

?Japanese knotweed is very invasive, and it?s in season in April,? she said. It can be used like rhubarb, she added.

Marie Viljoen, a garden designer who writes the foraging column for Edible Manhattan, argued that parks officials were overstating the problem. ?It?s a little alarmist to think that a park is going to be mowed down like a herd of deer went through,? she said.

Parks officials counter that they are more worried about the novices and say that certain plants, like American ginger and ramps, are especially vulnerable since they are yanked out, root and all. Park managers point out, too, that there are programs to weed out invasive plants.

Then there is the danger of poisonous and toxic plants. ?Not everyone knows how to use these herbs and spices,? Ms. Hernandez said.

Some natural areas outside New York City accommodate foragers. Sandy Hook in New Jersey, which is part of the federal Gateway National Recreation Area, limits the harvesting of beach plum fruit, berries and mushrooms to ?one quart container per person, per day,? said John Harlan Warren, a spokesman for the recreation area.

Opinion �

Proceeding with a nuclear plant in Alabama is our best choice for producing large amounts of reliable electricity.


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Social Media Engagement: Feds Need Better Policies

Social Media Engagement: Feds Need Better Policies

Guidelines for use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are being developed by federal agencies, but the GAO says they must do more to address records management, privacy, and security.
Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
(click image for larger view)
Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
Federal agencies must develop better internal rules and policies for using social media now that they increasingly are leveraging it to engage with the public, a government watchdog agency has found.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined how 23 key agencies are using social media and identified distinct ways that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other sites help them reach their respective target audiences, according to a report the office released this week.

More Government Insights

There are major differences in user experience among some of the top tablets. We take a deeper look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of Apple's iOS, Android/Honeycomb and RIM's QNX operating systems.E-mail and web browsing are two of the most common tasks on tablets. Here, we compare some of the major differences on an Android/Honeycomb tablet, an iPad 2 running iOS and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook.HP's new TouchPad tablet is a bit bulkier than the iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but it is fast and its WebOS operating system is easy to use and powerful, with some innovative features. Here's our hands on demo, including some fun apps.
There are major differences in user experience among some of the top tablets. We take a deeper look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of Apple's iOS, Android/Honeycomb and RIM's QNX operating systems.

Multiple agencies, including the White House itself, use Twitter to post news updates and provide links that direct people back to government websites. The White House recently also began holding live online question-and-answer sessions with key staffers via Twitter in what it's calling "Office Hours."

Other ways the government is using social media include posting videos of Congressional hearings on YouTube and leveraging Facebook as a forum for news, public feedback, and for asking President Obama and various agencies questions.

All of this activity poses new challenges in records management, privacy, and security; agency progress in meeting these challenges has been mixed, the GAO reported.

Their challenges, however, are not for lack of trying, as many agencies have developed specific policies for how they use social media that already take into consideration these elements so they don't misuse the technology.

Still, according to the GAO, only 12, or about half, of the agencies evaluated have developed processes and policies for identifying and managing records generated by their use of social media or updated their privacy policies to detail whether any personal information is made available through social-media use. Moreover, only eight have conducted privacy impact assessments to identify potential risks that may exist in case personal information is released by an agency.

Security, too, poses a significant risk, one that a number of agencies are aware of but have yet to address, the GAO found. Only seven of the 23 evaluated have identified and documented security risks and controls associated with social-media use, they said.

The low number of agencies that have done so is particularly troubling because risks identified could make agencies vulnerable to malware, according to the GAO.

For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services is blocking the use of social-media sites except for specific business needs because of the potential for the sites to be used to transmit malicious software, according to a security report compiled by the department, the GAO said.

The GAO acknowledged that many agency officials said they are working to fill the gaps in their social media policies and in its report, it made a series of agency-specific recommendations to help them do so.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)


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Lawmaker apologizes to Piers Morgan

A British lawmaker has apologized to CNN host and former tabloid editor Piers Morgan for wrongly stating that he "had been open about personally hacking phones" in his memoir.


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Mobile Neighborhood App Blockboard Now Covers All Of San Francisco

What would Craigslist look like if it was a mobile app? It might look a little bit like Blockboard, a neighborhood app which is expanding today from its initial neighborhood of the Mission in San Francisco to the rest of the city. Co-founder Stephen Hood demoed the app at our Mobile First CrunchUp today. It is designed from the ground-up as a neighborhood app through which neighbors can interact with one another. They can report potholes and graffiti directly to the city, alert each other about crime and vandalism through a Blockwatch, post general observations about the neighborhood, ask their neighbors questions, and post pictures of lost and found items.


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Money To Spend: Apple: $75.876 Billion. U.S. Government: $73.768 Billion.

15 years ago, Apple was on the verge of default. Today, the United States government is. Let's hope that in 15 years, our government will have been able to turn it around the way Apple has.

As is being reported by just about everyone, following their massive third quarter, Apple now has more cash (and cash equivalents) on hand than the U.S. government has for its entire operating balance. Apple has $75.876 billion. The U.S. government has $73.768 billion. Wow.


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Friday, July 29, 2011

2007 Letter Clearing Tabloid Is Under Scrutiny

2007 Letter Clearing Tabloid Is Under Scrutiny

Published: July 29, 2011

LONDON ? When a Parliamentary committee first confronted The News of the World with charges of phone hacking in 2007, the paper?s owners produced a reassuring, one-paragraph letter from a prominent London law firm named Harbottle & Lewis.

The firm had been hired to review the e-mails of the tabloid?s royal reporter, who had pleaded guilty to hacking the cellphone messages of royal household staff. The letter said senior editors were not aware of the reporter?s ?illegal actions,? which helped convince lawmakers that hacking was not endemic at the tabloid.

That letter has taken on new significance since it emerged in recent weeks that those e-mails, while not pointing to wider knowledge of hacking, did contain indications of payoffs to the police by journalists in exchange for information. The circumstances behind the writing of that single paragraph are being examined as part of criminal and Parliamentary inquires into whether the tabloid?s parent company, News International, the British subsidiary of the News Corporation, engineered a four-year cover-up of information suggesting criminal wrongdoing.

In interviews, two people familiar with both the contents of the e-mails and the discussions between the executives and the law firm provided new details about the possible payoffs. The two people also indicated that both News International and the law firm were aware of the information when the reassuring letter was written, yet defined their task as only addressing the hacking issue.

In one e-mail, from 2003, the paper?s royal reporter, Clive Goodman, complained to the top editor, Andy Coulson, about a management push to cut back on cash payments to sources, saying he needed to pay his contacts in the Scotland Yard unit that protects the royal family. In another e-mail, Mr. Goodman said that he did not want to go into detail about cash payments because everyone involved could ?go to prison for this,? according to the two people who described the e-mail?s contents.

The two people also said that in the exhange of e-mails, Mr. Goodman requested permission from Mr. Coulson to pay �1,000 for a classified Green Book directory, which had been stolen by a police officer in the protection unit. The book contains the private phone numbers of the queen, the royal family and their closest friends and associates ? a potentially useful tool for hacking.

In the years since the letter was written, various revelations have confirmed that phone hacking was endemic at the tabloid. Evidence disclosed in the past several weeks of widespread payoffs to the police have given rise to a second, and potentially more potent, front in the scandal.

Both Harbottle & Lewis and News International took notice of the e-mails to and from Mr. Goodman containing those initial indications of payoffs in 2007, according to the two people knowledgeable about the events. News International?s chief lawyer set them aside for a second look and they were among the e-mails retained in the files of the law firm. Yet they were not turned over to the police until last month, and no hint of their existence made its way into the firm?s single-paragraph letter four years ago.

The two people familiar with internal discussions between News International and the firm, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the criminal investigations, said company executives urged Harbottle & Lewis to write a letter giving News International a clean bill of health in the strongest possible terms.

The firm had been hired to defend the paper after Mr. Goodman sued, claiming his dismissal over phone hacking was unfair because it was widely done and widely known. The firm was asked to examine 2,500 e-mails involving Mr. Goodman to defend against his claim that superiors knew about his hacking.

The correspondence between the company and the firm over framing the letter does not make reference to the e-mails on police payments, a source familiar with the exchanges said, but it does reflect ?huge anxiety? about the wording.

The final version of the letter, dated May 29, 2007, sent by the firm?s managing partner to Jon Chapman, who was head of the legal department for News International, read: ?I can confirm that we did not find anything in those e-mails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman?s illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the editor, and Neil Wallis, the deputy editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the news editor, and others were carrying out similar procedures.?

The company rejected earlier drafts by Harbottle & Lewis that were not as broad, according to the two people with access to the correspondence. One of them said that lawyers on both sides seemed to struggle to find language that said the review had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting.


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RSA SecurID Breach Cost $66 Million

RSA SecurID Breach Cost $66 Million

EMC details second quarter 2011 cost to replace tokens, monitor customers, and handle fallout from RSA's SecurID breach.
10 Massive Security Breaches
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Slideshow: 10 Massive Security Breaches
Between April and June 2011, EMC spent $66 million dealing with the fallout from a March cyber attack against its systems, which resulted in the compromise of information relating to the SecurID two-factor authentication sold by EMC's security division, RSA.

That clean-up figure was disclosed last week during an EMC earnings call, by David Goulden, the company's chief financial officer. It doesn't include post-breach expenses from the first quarter, when EMC began investigating the attack, hardening its systems, and working with customers to prevent their being exploited as a result of the attacks.

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We spoke with Chris Sather, Product Management for Network Defense at McAfee about McAfee's next generation firewalls that analyze relationships and not protocols.PGP CEO Phil Dunkleberger talks to us about the latest Ponemon research data, which will show a higher cost from legal fees and targeted malware.PGP CEO Phil Dunkleberger talks about the newest features of PGP, and some of the trends driving where its technology is going.
We spoke with Chris Sather, Product Management for Network Defense at McAfee about McAfee's next generation firewalls that analyze relationships and not protocols.

In spite of the breach, EMC reported strong second-quarter financial results, earning consolidated revenue of $4.85 billion, which is an increase of 20% compared with the same period one year ago. Meanwhile, second-quarter GAAP net income increased by 28% from the same period last year, to reach $546 million. The company saw large growth in its information infrastructure and virtual infrastructure products and services, including quarterly revenue increases of 19% for its information storage group.

Those results led executives to increase their financial outlook for 2011 and predict consolidated revenue in excess of $19.8 billion, which would be a 16% increase from EMC's 2010 revenues of $17 billion.

Growth was slower for RSA, however, which saw year-on-year revenue growth increase slightly, from 8% to 13%, fueled by the company's identity management, protection, and security management compliance businesses. "It is likely that RSA growth will remain a bit slower as remediation efforts continue," said Goulden. But he said that "overall customer feedback is positive and increasingly, customers are showing confidence."

As that suggests, RSA faced criticism after the breach for failing to disclose details of what had been stolen, or how it might be used against its customers. RSA's approach changed somewhat, however, after attackers used stolen SecurID information to launch attacks against numerous defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin.

Facing increasing criticism from customers andators after those attacks, RSA chairman Art Coviello in early June issued an open letter providing additional details about the breach and RSA's approach to handling it. He also announced that RSA would offer replacement tokens to more customers. But despite the additional details, Coviello stopped short of explaining exactly what attackers had stolen and how that might effect customers.

According to Goulden, RSA ultimately offered replacement tokens to the one-third of its customers who use SecurID to protect intellectual property and corporate networks. For the other two-thirds of customers, who largely use the tokens to protect "Web-based consumer financial transactions," the company offered additional security monitoring. That strategy was decided by EMC after determining that attackers didn't appear to be seeking consumers' financial details. Rather, he said, "our analysis of the attack led us to believe that likely targets were the defense sector and related government agencies."

On the earnings call, Goulden also defended RSA's post-breach approach, saying the shift in strategy hadn't been related to a change in the actual risk facing customers. "What did change was our customer's sensitivity to risk. This was caused by the same news flow around cyber attacks as in addition to press coverage of the attack on Lockheed Martin, there was broad media coverage of attacks on organizations including Google, Sony, Epsilon, the Australian government and PBS," he said. "While these attacks were entirely unrelated to RSA, the publicity resulted in many customers risk tolerance going down while the level of awareness and concern went up."

In this new Tech Center report, we profile five database breaches--and extract the lessons to be learned from each. Plus: A rundown of six technologies to reduce your risk. Download it here (registration required).


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Benz's Beauty Stretches Its Wings


Photo by Chuck Squatriglia/Wired

If and when I am ever filthy rich, I will own a Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS Gullwing. I will not care that its fuel economy is obscene and I will not care that it almost certainly costs obscene amounts of money to maintain.

There are many reasons for my decision, not the least of which is that it?s absurdly easy to drive the SLS criminally fast. The power is instantaneous, the handling is precise and the emotional and visceral response is off the charts. The SLS inspires such confidence at speed your grandmother would lose her license in it.

Yet as wonderful as that makes the AMG SLS, it is hardly the car?s biggest selling point. No, what really stands out are the doors and engine. Specifically, how the doors look and how the engine sounds.

Both can be described in one word: Fan-freaking-tastic.

I realize it is odd praising something so seemingly trivial as the doors and engine note, but they underscore the visceral appeal of the SLS. To open those gloriously grandiose doors or revel in the molten gurgling of a hand-built V8 is to know you?re driving something special.

Before we get to that, though, a little history is in order. The SLS is an homage to the 300 SL Gullwing, a masterpiece that was, by any measure, the first modern supercar when it appeared in 1954. In an age when even the best sports cars were a handful at the limit, the SL was fast, smooth and a joy to drive flat-out.

The SLS is all of those things. Few cars so beautifully blend luxury and performance in a package this engaging and rewarding.

The only reason it has gullwing doors is because they?re so damn cool. If that isn?t reason enough for you, then buy a Prius and be done with it because you just don?t get cars.

Now then. About those doors. They open upward, like the wings of a bird, something that always draws a crowd. People ooh and ahh. They point and snap pictures. They offer some variation of ?Nice car? before invariably asking two questions, always the same two questions: ?How much?? (A lot) and ?How fast?? (Ridiculously).

No one ever asks, ?Why?? That?s just as well, because the answer is, essentially, ?Why not?? The SL had gullwing doors because its tubular steel frame required them. Nothing else would work. The SLS has an aluminum space frame and no need for such extravagance. The only reason it has gullwing doors is because they?re so damn cool. If that isn?t reason enough for you, then buy a Prius and be done with it because you just don?t get cars.

The rest of the car is no less impressive, even if it just sort of ends. The flaccid, rounded rear is a disappointing counterpoint to a front end more intimidating than SEAL Team 6. It?s as if the designers ran out of ideas once they got aft of the doors.

They can be forgiven though, because everything else works. The SLS recalls the classic sports cars of yore: long and low, with an aggressive stance and a hood that ends in the next zip code. Parking?s a bitch because you have no idea where the wheels are, and you?re so low that even gently sloped driveways scrape the spoiler with a grinding that sounds like a big check being written.

Of course, riding so low creates a subterranean center of gravity. That and an almost comically wide stance ? those front wheels are 66.2 inches apart ? keep the SLS flatter than last night?s beer through turns. Although the SLS is made of aluminum, it still a relatively big beast at 3,885 pounds. Most of the mass, including the engine, is between the axles, so the SLS doesn?t turn so much as pirouette. The back end likes to step out of line, but that adds to the fun. All manner of electronic nannies keep you out of trouble without being intrusive.

The handling is so responsive, so predictable, that the SLS encourages you to push harder than you might otherwise consider possible ? or prudent. I lost count of how many times I caught a glimpse of the speedometer mid-turn and found myself at velocities that would give Cond� Nast?s insurance agent an aneurysm.

But then, excessive exuberance comes easily when you?re playing with 563 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is effortless in any of the car?s seven gears. If you simply must mainline all that power in one shot, activate the launch control system and hold on. The 6.2-liter V8 rockets you to 62 mph in just 3.8 seconds. Keep the pedal mashed another 7 seconds and you?ll reach twice that. Top speed is 197, though I?ll have to take Mercedes? word for it.

Push the big red ?start? button and the engine emits a roar that literally turns heads. Then it settles into a low idle, gurgling like Satan?s own cauldron.

The sound of the engine is no less intoxicating than its unrelenting power. To call it glorious is to undersell it. It barks. It gurgles. It snarls. It makes you shake your head and smile and thank Karl Benz for inventing the automobile because this, by God, is what a car should sound like. It is the sound every boy hears in his head as he says ?Vroom! Vroom!? while pushing a Matchbox car.

Push the big red ?start? button and the engine emits a roar that literally turns heads. Then it settles into a low idle, gurgling like Satan?s own cauldron. It?s a deep, primordial sound that builds to a metallic wail as the power comes on in a seemingly unending rush. Back off the throttle going into a turn and the engine pops and barks with such ferocity you expect to see flames shooting from the tailpipes.

Despite the barely contained rage of the engine and the ease with which it delivers eyeball-flatting speed, the SLS is remarkably happy tooling around town. While the sport, sport-plus and manual modes unleash increasingly unfettered performance, ?controlled efficiency? mode reins it all in, keeping the car sedate if not quite docile.

For all its focus on performance, the SLS is remarkably practical. Well, as practical as a $203,000 car capable of ungodly thrust can be.

Getting in gracefully takes a bit of practice, but the interior is surprisingly comfortable. It?s deliciously appointed, though so understated as to border on dull even with the $4,500 carbon fiber trim package. The leather is softer than newborn kittens, the aluminum vents look spectacular and the optional 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo makes it sound like Thelonious Monk is riding shotgun. (At $6,400, it damned well better.) There?s even an anchor for a baby seat. My only complaint is the trunk is only slightly larger than the glovebox. Still, the SLS is so comfortable and composed around town you could commute in it if you could afford the gas.

Ah, yes. Fuel economy. If you must know, the feds peg it at 14 city, 20 highway and 16 combined. That?s about what I got racking up 766 miles driving all over creation one weekend. I would have felt guilty but, frankly, I was having far too much fun.

Now if you?ll excuse me, I have lottery tickets to buy.

WIRED Opulence and performance in an exotic you can actually live with. The harder you push it, the better it gets. Is there anything cooler than gullwing doors? No, there is not.

TIRED Slows shifts. Tiny trunk. The damned door buzzer gets mighty annoying when you?re driving with the gullwing doors open. Marketplace $28.34 0.00


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just As Spotify Settles Into The U.S. Lifestyle It Gets Sued For Patent Infringement

We expected it would happen eventually because here in the U.S. it happens to everyone... but two weeks? Can?t we just give them a little time to settle in, rearrange their accents and lose a bit of sophistication before we jump on Spotify?s back? Within fourteen days of arriving stateside, PacketVideo has filed a patent infringement suit against Europe?s prized music service. For what, you ask? Streaming music.


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Is This The iPhone 5?

iPhone fans, start drooling. Skeptics, have your grains of salt at the ready. An iPhone 5 ? or at least something closely fitting the rumored description of the iPhone 5 ? has just been spotted... on a train, of all places.


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Bill Would Force Intel Chief to Rebuke 'Secret Patriot Act'

For months, two Senators have screamed bloody murder that the government holds a secret legal interpretation of the Patriot Act so broad that it amounts to a whole different law giving the feds massive domestic surveillance powers. Now, a measure by Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall would force the U.S. intelligence chief (and, by extension, the entire intelligence community) to admit that they went too far in their Patriot Act interpretations ? if they don?t find a way to wiggle out of it.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence meets Thursday to prepare the annual bill authorizing the U.S. intelligence agency?s operations. During that ?mark-up? process, Wyden and Udall will ask their colleagues to include a measure compelling the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to produce a ?detailed assessment of the problems posed by the reliance of government agencies? (.pdf) on ?interpretations of domestic surveillance authorities that are inconsistent with the understanding of such authorities by the public.? Wyden?s staff provided Danger Room with a copy of the proposed amendment.

Specifically, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would have to produce ?a plan for addressing such problems? with secret legal interpretations regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Patriot Act, the government?s two most important domestic spying laws.

The bill, though, doesn?t force Holder and Clapper to roll back those secret interpretations. They?ve just got to basically admit they?ve messed up. Even if Wyden and Udall can get their colleagues to sign on to their effort, it would be naive to think the nation?s top prosecutor and intelligence officer are so thick that they can?t find an artful way of saying they?ve done nothing wrong.

The irony is that this week, Clapper?s office conceded to the Senate panel that they have indeed been secretly re-interpreting the Patriot Act. A letter from a Clapper aide to Wyden and Udall implied as much (.pdf), and pledged to consider making those secret interpretations public. And Tuesday, the Obama administration?s nominee to lead the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen,�acknowledged that ?some of the pleadings and opinions related to the Patriot Act? to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that approves snooping warrants ?are classified.?

Olsen, who currently serves as the top lawyer for the National Security Agency, added that ?similar? secret interpretations exist for the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which already expanded FISA?s scope for what some consider blanket surveillance.

Under Wyden and Udall?s amendment, Holder and Clapper would have to deliver a public assessment to the intelligence committees in the House and Senate about the perfidies of secret surveillance law within 60 days of passage.

It?s entirely unclear whether they?ve got the votes to get their measure into the intelligence bill. Not many senators on the intelligence panel signed on to Wyden and Udall?s outrage about secret expansions of the Patriot Act when they unveiled their worries in May. A vote on sending the intel bill to the full Senate could happen as early as Thursday. Even if it passes, it?s essentially up to Holder and Clapper to decide how much wrongdoing they want to admit to in the letter.

?It is critical that officials of the United States not secretly reinterpret public laws in a manner that is inconsistent with the public?s understanding of such laws,? Wyden and Udall?s proposal reads, ?and not describe the execution of such laws in a way that misinforms or misleads the public.?

Photo: Flickr/jonathanmcintosh


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With An IPO On The Horizon, Trulia Adds Social Recommendations For Real Estate Professionals

When selling or buying a house, working with a trusted, certified broker or agent is extremely important. Generally you find trusted real estate agents through word of mouth, whether that be through a neighbor, friend or contact. But as more and more consumers look online to find and sell listings, sourcing personal recommendations can be challenging. Real estate search engine Trulia is adding new social functionality that aims to replicate word-of-mouth referrals for brokers and professionals in the real estate industry. Trulia Social Search essentially brings the verbal endorsement of a preferred agent to Trulia and Facebook, helping consumers discover trusted real estate professionals by searching their Facebook social network for agents and brokers their family, friends and acquaintances recommend. Basically the feature allows consumers to recommend their agent on Trulia and Facebook simultaneously.


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VMware Never Said Virtualization Was Easy; Google+ Pains

Griping about VMware price changes? It's time to get practical. As for early users of Google+, the bumps continue.
Remember when virtualization was the hot young technology that none of the old codgers in your company knew about and you were the smart hotshot that explained it to them? That was about four years ago, and no one knows better than VMware that those days are never coming back. IT pros had the early, sweet wins with server virtualization. Now you're into the hard part, reworking your IT teams and provisioning just enough resources, but not too much, to keep your highly-virtualized data center running smoothly for the business folks. Your ability to throw a lot of memory at this second problem, without any cost penalty from VMware, wasn't a situation that could last forever, as's Charles Babcock points out today in his expert analysis of continuing gripes surrounding VMware's recently announced pricing changes.

Microsoft and Oracle have pulled worse stunts with surprise customer audits, Babcock points out. That doesn't mean that IT directors like Jonathan Feldman will like the price change very much. "Enterprise IT is from Venus; software vendors are from Mars," quips Feldman.

A more complex problem looming for VMware will be how widely Microsoft and Citrix make gains. "Customers will increasingly find themselves confronted with the choice between continuing to pay a premium for advanced virtualization, or settling for the gains they have and resisting further advances with more charges," Babcock notes. Automation tools will be hard to say no to for most shops.

Look for automation, proving ROI, hybrid clouds, security, and dealing with IT staff politics related to virtualization to be among the hottest topics at the upcoming VMworld conference in late August.

Meanwhile, while VMware deals with admins who are not happy about having to work harder at provisioning, Google+ deals with early adopters who were not delighted to get the boot from the new social service darling. Just what gets you kicked out of Google+?'s David Carr explains. Google has said it will tweak its policy on real names vs. nicknames. Look for more coverage on this later today from's Thomas Claburn.

Google has yet to address some other significant minuses that Google+ poses.

Finally, from the interesting stats department, check out this little gem: 35% of people surveyed by PriceGrabber say they already plan to buy the unannounced iPhone 5.

Mind you, they have no solid information about the price, features or timing of that phone, which is rumored to ship in September.

Imagine if VMware could whip up that much excitement among its user base. Well, they certainly do have mobile plans.

Laurianne McLaughlin is editor-in-chief for Follow her on Twitter at @lmclaughlin.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

U.S.-born teen guilty of beheading four

A 14-year-old U.S. citizen was found guilty in Mexico of torturing and beheading at least four people. He was fined and sentenced to three years in a correctional facility.


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It?s Dangerous To Go Alone: SimpleGeo And Urban Airship Partner Up For Location Notifications

Over the past couple of years, push notifications have become a vital part of the mobile picture. There are so many apps, and so much that you can do on smartphones, that you need a system to alert you when something comes up that you'll want to know about. But these notifications are still not a particularly easy thing for developers to wrap their heads around and implement. That's why Urban Airship exists. And all of the same things can be said about location. Which is why SimpleGeo exists. So it seems to be a good match that the two of them are hooking up for a partnership. As they'll announce as OSCON (the open source developer conference) today, Urban Airship and SimpleGeo have signed a long-term strategic partnership agreement. Given the wide-range of services that both companies offer, this could ultimately mean many things. But the core idea is to provide developers with a simple way to offer location-aware push notifications in their applications.


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