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UC lab makes robot that emulates leaping lizard

Scientists and their students in a UC Berkeley lab have learned how African lizards use their tails to leap from predators - a discovery that allowed them to create a tiny robot with a tail that uses the same acrobatics for unprecedented maneuverability.
Similar robots could eventually be used, the scientists say, to search for bodies buried underneath earthquake rubble, or to land a spacecraft on low-gravity asteroids, or - as the Army suggests - to sneak inside buildings where enemy combatants lurk.
In today's edition of the journal Nature, UC Berkeley biologist Robert J. Full and Thomas Libby, his mechanical engineering graduate student, describe a series of experiments observing the leaping African rainbow lizards. The lizards swing their tails upright to balance themselves in midair and keep them from tumbling head over heels as they leap.
After detailed studies of the lizards' physiology, the team developed mathematical models of their tail motions. They used that information to build a movable tail for a four-wheeled, mini-robot that mimics the lizards' flights.
The inch-long robot, named "Tailbot," can take off from a ramp at a yard per second and land safely, tail-up, across a void several inches wide. Without the tail to balance and stabilize it, Tailbot crashed.
In Full's lab, biologists and engineers work together on how animal motions can be used to design robots with more useful legs or wheels.
"The science of robotics is just beginning," Full said. "We build our robots to behave the same way that our little animals, like crabs or geckos or cockroaches, have evolved to confront obstacles in their environment."
Full's lab also has created a six-legged robot named Ariel that mimics a crab's scuttle, allowing it to walk on sandy beaches, rock piles, underwater and in ocean surf.
Another six-legged robot named RHex moves with the persistence of a sniffing terrier, Full said, but is modeled after the way a cockroach speeds into the hidden cracks of a cupboard.
And then there's Mecho-Gecko, a robot whose three legs are tipped with pressure-sensitive adhesive, enabling it to climb vertical walls much the way geckos do.
Stanford robotics engineer Mark Cutkosky, who has worked with Full in the past, said the new report on leaping lizards and the Tailbot robot's performance "provides valuable insights for the next generation of mobile robots.
"In the past, robots haven't moved fast enough to take advantage of acrobatic maneuvers that involve dynamic effects such as rapidly rotating or flicking a tail, or rapidly rotating the limbs, as human jumpers or pole vaulters do."
But Full's report, Cutkosky said, "shows us how a tail and a flexible spine can be used to increase mobility and maneuverability at high speeds when robots can jump, spin and glide across the terrain."
There were also side benefits of the lizard research, Full said.
The models his team created confirmed a hypothesis about how swift dinosaurs moved - a theory developed more than 40 years ago by John Ostrom, a Yale paleontologist.
Ostrom studied the vicious racing and slashing theropods like deinonychus, and velociraptor, the evil co-star of the later movie "Jurassic Park."
Their leaping attacks, Full said, followed the "dynamic stabilizer" models of his team's research.
He said the movie appropriately captured how the velociraptor moved. Without knowing the mathematics of the leaping African lizards, the movie creators still "got it right!" Full said.
Full's team's research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and MAST, the U.S. Army's Micro Autonomous Systems Technologies Alliance.

Indonesia’s 2012 Rubber Production Growth May Slow on Weather

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Natural-rubber production in Indonesia, the second-largest grower, may increase at a slower pace this year as a moderate La Nina potentially disrupts tapping even as more trees are maturing, an industry group said.
Output may rise 6.5 percent to 3.3 million metric tons this year after gaining 12 percent to 3.1 million tons last year, said Suharto Honggokusumo, executive director at the Rubber Association of Indonesia.
Exports may gain to 2.8 million tons from 2.6 million tons, supported by demand from tire makers in the U.S., Japan and China, he said by telephone from Jakarta today.
Rubber plunged 36 percent last year on concern the European sovereign-debt crisis hurt demand. June-delivery futures rose 0.75 percent to 268.2 yen per kilogram ($3,490 a ton) on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange at 2 p.m. Jakarta time.
“Rubber trees that were replanted in 2007 and 2008 will start producing this year,” Honggokusumo said. “Demand remains good, with consumption from Europe expected to improve in the second half.”
Output from the world’s biggest growers, which represent 92 percent of global supply, may rise 3.1 percent to 10.42 million tons this year, the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries said yesterday. Last year, output increased 6.4 percent to 10.1 million tons, it said, a faster pace than its November forecast of 5.6 percent.
--Editor: Greg Ahlstrand
To contact the reporter on this story: Yoga Rusmana in Jakarta at yrusmana@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Poole at jpoole4@bloomberg.net

American Diplomat Urges China to Consult Over North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — The highest American official to visit northeast Asia since the death of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, urged China on Thursday to help restrain the new leadership in the North from military provocations as it goes through a sensitive transition of power.
“We also urge China to make clear the importance of restraint by the new North Korean leadership,” Assistant Secretary of State M. Kurt Campbell told reporters in Seoul after meeting Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea.
Mr. Campbell discussed developments in North Korea following Kim Jong-il’s death with Mr. Kim and other senior South Korean officials, as well as briefing them on the meetings he had with Chinese officials in Beijing on Wednesday.
When he met Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and other senior Chinese officials, Mr. Campbell said, he asked Beijing to “consult closely” with Washington on developments in North Korea.
Although there is doubt on Beijing’s ability to influence the North Korean regime, China remains Pyongyang’s last remaining major ally. North Korea’s economic dependence on China has deepened in recent years as it suffered more international sanctions following its nuclear and long-range missile tests. That dependence has magnified the potential role China might be able to play in stabilizing the Korean Peninsula if the transition in Pyongyang went awry. China was the first country to endorse the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the third son of Kim Jong-il, who died on Dec. 17.
One of the biggest concerns in the region is that Kim Jong-un — or whoever is engineering his rapid rise to top leadership of the North’s 1.2 million-member military and other key agencies of power — might initiate military provocations against South Korea to help consolidate internal unity.
Mr. Kim is believed to be in his late 20s. Whether he will be able to consolidate the kind of grip on power his father did — or how the power elites might behave if he fails to do so — remain topics of intense speculation and of potentially grave implications for the stability of the region.
“We underscore the strongest possible commitment of the United States to the enduring partnership between the United States and the Republic of Korea and the determination to be tightly aligned as we together face the new leadership transition in North Korea,” Mr. Campbell said, using the official name of South Korea.
The military commitment of the United States, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, is crucial to South Korea’s defense against the North.

Bobby Tonelli: Learning Mandarin one arm curl at a time

SINGAPORE: Most artistes learn their lines at home, but US-born Singapore actor Bobby Tonelli learned the Mandarin lines for his role in the Channel 8 drama "Double Bonus", his biggest Mandarin-speaking role yet, by going to the gym.

Strange you say?

Tonelli doesn't think so – the hunky actor believed that learning his lines at the gym made it easier for him to remember and understand them.

"The memorisation is very tough. I know what I am saying but I have to memorise all these sounds and try to make it flow, so what I did is I would record lines and I would play it through my headphones while at the gym while working out.

"It does help because when you kind of doing two things at the same time, it sort of gets ingrained into your brain a bit more," said Tonelli, who also hosts Class 95FM's "Cartunes" show with Jean Danker.

"I'm learning Mandarin one arm curl at a time man!"

"The only problem is you start mouthing [the words] out so people are looking at you and are like 'What the hell are you doing in the gym? He's gone mad at the gym!'," said Tonelli, bursting into laughter.
"I was scared sh*tless!"

He may laugh about it now, but Tonelli revealed that he literally shook with fear during the first few days of shooting for the drama, which also stars local actresses Zoe Tay and Tracy Lee along with Hong Kong actor Tom Price.

"I was nervous as hell because acting generally is hard , acting in a foreign language is even harder.

"I remember I was literally shaking the first few days. I was so nervous I couldn't sleep at night," said Tonelli.

"I was scared sh*tless! But that was part of the challenge of it and that's what made it fun for me."

Besides the challenge of acting in a foreign tongue, Tonelli's sense of obligation to Channel 8 also pushed him to take the job and get the job done right.

"Channel 8 has been really good to me. To the mass audience, they didn't notice me till I did 'The Little Nyonya'. It was thanks to Channel 8.

"So there's a part of me that always feels indebted to them for what they have given me," said Tonelli, explaining that he was especially grateful to Channel 8 for bringing him and his actress girlfriend Joanne Peh - whom he met on the "The Little Nyonya" set - together.

"Yeah, you can't beat that! That's always a plus!" said the actor of gaining both his big break as well as a girlfriend from his stint on "The Little Nyonya".

The only problem he had with shooting the show was that it left him with precious little time to spend with Peh, who was also busy with "A Song To Remember" at the time.

"When she was free and wanted to go out, I can't because I'd have Mandarin tuition," said Tonelli.
More Mandarin in his future

Although filming for "Double Bonus" has wrapped and the show is now airing, Tonelli expressed that he intends to continue learning Mandarin, even though he is still struggling with it.

"I love the Chinese language … I enjoy the culture. I'm still taking [Mandarin] lessons.

"It's just that in Singapore, it's hard to learn because you are not around it all the time," said Tonelli, adding that he is also bracing himself for criticism about his Mandarin.

"Singapore audiences can be quite critical of other people's Mandarin ... I know I will probably get slammed for my Mandarin at some point.

"All I can say is I'm trying my best and I'll continue to get better."
"Double Bonus" airs every weeknight at 9pm on Channel 8.

-CNA

Bollywood Tops India’s Twitter Rankings

Although Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan did not deliver a box office hit in 2011, this did not stop him from being crowned India’s Twitter king.
Big B was the most popular Indian celebrity on the micro-blogging site in 2011, with over 1.85 million followers on Jan. 1. The host of India’s edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” claimed last year’s title after overtaking 2010’s Twitter queen Priyanka Chopra, who came a close second, ending the year with around 1.84 million followers.
What’s the secret behind Mr. Bachchan’s Twitter success? Not only is he one of the best-known Bollywood names globally: While celebrities often refrain from tweeting on their private lives, last year Mr. Bachchan has been anything but reclusive on Twitter.
In June he broke the news of his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai’s pregnancy and in November he tweeted in excitement after the birth of his second granddaughter, who was immediately dubbed “Baby B.”
Following Bollywood diva Ms. Chopra is cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, who ranked third with over 1.78 million followers, most of whom have been eagerly awaiting his 100th ton since March last year. Though the little master seldom tweets, ardent cricket fans have set him trending on the micro-blogging site pretty much each time he set foot on the pitch.
Bollywood’s “King Khan” is unlikely to shy away from popularity rankings. Sure enough, he came fourth with over 1.61 million Twitter followers, over 100,000 ahead of actor Aamir Khan, who ranks fifth. The other Khan, Salman, came sixth with around 1.5 million followers.
Twitter’s year-end statistics for India are more Bollywood-heavy than last year’s, when the followers of politician Shashi Tharoor outnumbered both Mr. Bachchan’s and Mr. Tendulkar’s. The Congress party lawmaker is still the most followed tweeter in Delhi, but with around 1.2 million followers he comes nowhere close the top five nation-wide.
Indian celebrities were no match for global superstars, many of whom have a fan following on Twitter in the 10-to-20 million range. Pop diva Lady Gaga tops the list with over 17 million followers followed by teenage sensation Justin Bieber, who has 16 million followers. Not a single Indian made it on the list of the top 100 most-followed celebrities of the year, which includes the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama and Brazilian soccer star Kaka.
To spot the first Indian, you have to dig 12 pages deep into the list after which Mr. Bachchan finally appears at No. 244.
Follow India Real Time on Twitter @indiarealtime.

Data security, privacy concerns may hit cloud computing growth in India

Concerns over data security and privacy and an immature ecosystem are likely to stunt the growth of cloud computing in India. Despite the obvious benefits of lower capital expenditure and quicker rollout of new products and services, chief information officers (CIOs) are hesitant to make full-scale investments in the new technology.

For now, they are rolling out pilot projects or waiting for the technology to stabilise, before making this radical shift. Unlike traditional information technology, cloud computing relies on storing, managing and retrieving data hosted on the internet, rather than on a local server. As the amount of data generated grows exponentially - a McKinsey estimate believes the amount of data will grow 44-fold between 2009 and 2020 - companies may find it more viable to store this data virtually in a distant server, rather than buy more servers and storage systems to keep it in-house.

As broadband services expanded, more companies across sectors started exploring this possibility. Over the past 12 to 18 months, India's largest two-wheeler maker, Hero MotoCorp, has added 40 dealers to its sales and distribution network as it expands its reach across the country.

Hero's CIO Vijay Sethi leant on a new cloud-based software to hasten this process -- from weeks to a matter of days -- since the rapid expansion would have been impossible with its old technology. "Time reduction from four months to four days is much more advantageous than Rs 1 lakh saved in vendor negotiations," he says.

Based on the success of this project, Hero wants to extend its 'cloud' presence into six or seven other functional areas, he pointed out. Despite this major investment, Hero's Sethi and his peers across India Inc remain cautious about the rollout of cloud computing wherein applications related to supply chain and human resources are hosted on the internet.

In theory, this would have resulted in lower capital expenditure because companies would have needed to buy fewer servers and other hardware to store and access their data.

The concerns
However, concerns over security, insufficient development of cloudready applications, lack of case studies measuring returns from cloud computing investments and erratic broadband availability have forced CIOs to adopt a slow and steady route to cloud computing. Despite the service network implementation at Hero, Sethi doesn't think cloud computing will see widespread implementation across India Inc.

"There has been a lot of talk about this," he says. "But few companies have taken concrete steps to adopt this technology." HDFC Bank, India's second-largest private bank, is taking baby-steps to implement cloud computing. Anand Sankararaman, senior vice-president of IT, HDFC Bank, says a few pilot projects have been rolled out internally to gauge how ready the bank is for cloud computing.

However, it neither has a private (data hosted exclusively for the bank) or public (data hosted securely with other firms) cloud set-up yet. "In financial services, there are several concerns over data security and privacy, which aren't fully answered yet," he says.

According to experts, security and access to data is the biggest stumbling block to a wider cloud computing implementation across India Inc. Sid Deshpande, senior research analyst with technology consultancy Gartner, says basic tools like email , data back-up and video conferencing are the first tools to be moved to the cloud. "There are few cases yet of critical data related to customers or supply chain being cloud based," says Deshpande.

The mismatch
Executives at storage and security giant Symantec are closely watching the evolution of cloud computing to keep their products and services upto-date and according to one of their internal surveys, there's a lot to worry.

According to the firm's State Of The Cloud Survey, there is a stark mismatch between expectations from cloud computing and the end results. According to results from this survey , 85% of those interviewed expected cloud technology to improve their IT agility, but only 57% said that it actually did. Results also fell short in areas of disaster recovery, efficiency and security.

"CIOs are concerned about access to data and if their IT infrastructure and applications are cloud ready," says Vijay Mhaskar, VP, Information Management Group, Symantec. Others also think that cloud computing has got off to a slow start in India.

Under a third of 150 CIOs interviewed by Zinnov, a management consultancy based out of Bangalore, have full-scale implementations in place and just over a fifth have pilot projects underway. "While security and data privacy are the top concerns, companies are worried about how long they will spend (and how much money they will invest) in integrating older systems with those built around cloud computing.

"Nearly 75% of the CIOs we spoke to agreed that cloud computing would be an important part of their strategy," says Praveen Bhadada, director, Zinnov. "The biggest issue is one of perception."

The slow shift
There's no denying that cloud computing is an area of future technology investment for India Inc. Gartner says the move towards cloud computing is still in its infancy. Globally, Gartner estimates that while $74 billion was spent on public cloud services in 2010, this was a measly 3% of enterprise technology spending.

Several CIOs suggested that this would go up to 10-12 % of spending overall, as several issues surrounding cloud computing are sorted out. India's largest mobile services firm Airtel has been one of the most aggressive adopters of cloud computing.

According to Amrita Gangotra, director-IT , India and South Asia, Bharti Airtel, the firm began switching to cloud technology around two years ago primarily to reduce costs and carbon footprint globally. Gangotra says that the firm will have a common pool of infrastructure on demand for application developers. "We will have a common pool of technology resources using cloud computing, rather than a dedicated pool to each team," says Gangotra.

This means that there will be fewer peaks and troughs of server and storage usage and projects can be rolled out quicker - a key competitive advantage in the extremely competitive mobile services market. Gangotra says that Airtel has even completed at least five proof of concept to manage new cloud-centric applications with its vendors.

But not everyone is willing to take such a leap of faith. Sethi is hesitant to place the firm's mission-critical applications on the cloud because he is unsure of its availability at all times. "This is not because of the service provider but because we can't live with the slow speed of broadband," he says.

When there are hundreds or thousands of users trying to access this data, bandwidth costs shoot up and return on investment calculations go flying out of the window. Security paranoia and technology complexity too play a key role in cloud computing. "What happens if a provider goes bankrupt," asks Sethi.

"Most applications are not standalone today...enterprise resource planning software is integrated with data management tools, which are linked to the business intelligence software. How do you decide which goes on the cloud first?" Consequently, few CIOs across India Inc are willing to be pioneers in investing aggressively in cloud computing.

"There are no financial services companies on the cloud," argues Sankararaman of HDFC. The hesitancy is because there are few reports which have measured returns from these cloud computing investments-and as the economy sourspeople would prefer to restrict their expenditure on technology.

The uptick in cloud computing then, may not come from large enterprises such as HDFC, Airtel or Hero, but rather from small companies , who have limited budgets but need to have a full-fledged technology set-up.

For example, a small-sized readymade textiles maker in Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, may have to invest in IT to keep pace with a flood of orders from mega retailer Wal-Mart , which can happen only on an online order ful fillment system.

Rather than invest heavily in a complete set-up, such a company may prefer to host most of its data online and use pay-per-use software to keep costs down. With over 8 million small and business units in India, less than 10% of them connected , this may be a latent opportunity waiting to be tapped.

Changes in the approach to IT are also likely to influence a CIO's decision on cloud computing.

The explosion of mobile devices, the growing trend of bringing your own device to work, desktop and server virtualisation, explosive rate of data growth and a changing security threat landscape are the key drivers in this transition, says Symantec's Mhaskar. Before this opportunity can be tapped, a tight-fisted India Inc will need to be convinced cloud computing is worth their time-and money.

Review: Meet 'Lisa,' Linux Mint 12

For someone who has never before tried out a Linux desktop, consider telling them to make Linux Mint 12 their initial exploration.
This version of the Linux distro, which launched late last year, is code-named “Lisa” and runs the relatively new Gnome 3 desktop graphical user interface. It is based on Ubuntu 11.10.
This version has become known throughout Linux circles for a couple of big reasons. First, for new Linux adoptees, Linux Mint 12 comes across as just an outstanding, easy-to-deploy, easy-to-manage PC operating system. Linux Mint 12 is the kind of OS that, were it around in this iteration at the same time as Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) Launched Windows Vista, it might have rendered Microsoft into little more than the Xbox company.
Linux Mint 12, in deploying with Gnome 3, means essentially this: Instead of being able to customize features like themes, it trades in those capabilities for the ability to create multiple “workspaces.” And that has led to the second better-known result of Linux Mint 12: an effort by developers to keep as much of the Gnome 3 functionality while combining it with the Gnome 2 features they have all come to know and love. That effort, code-named “Cinnamon,” is now in the works.
But for now, back to Linux Mint 12. Here are some of the details:
• It took us under 20 minutes to complete a full, clean installation of Linux Mint 12 on a laptop built with a Core i7 quad-core CPU. The wizard-based process was smooth, with no hiccups or suprises.
• All primary drivers on the laptop – including those for Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet, audio and – this surprised us – on-board webcam worked the first time out of the gate. In fact, during installation the OS activated the webcam to provide the option of creating a user photo icon for the new account.
• Navigation is different than you’ll see in Windows XP, Windows 7 or Mac OS X, but similar to Ubuntu. Linux Mint 12 has an “infinity” icon in the top left corner of the desktop; once clicked, it provides a full menu of almost 100 pre-loaded applications and tools that can be sifted by type, from “Office” applications to Internet, games, and so on.
• It took between one and two minutes to configure the PC to print to a printer on the network, with no need to install drivers. Print management can also be easily locked to the user by the administrator.
• The default productivity suite, as it is with Ubuntu now, is LibreOffice.
If you’ve never used a PC operating system in earlier versions of Gnome, LinuxMint 12 is intuitive, straightforward and efficient if not elegant. (Think of this when installing and testing out the forthcoming Windows 8 from Microsoft, which is on track to provide significant changes in PC interface with its Metro GUI.)
On installation, one is presented with the option of encrypting the desktop, which is nice.
Linux Mint has been increasing in popularity over the past several years along with continued growth of Ubuntu. It’s not just a viable PC operating system, it’s a legitimate OS that stands as a solid option for engagements with lower-cost of acquisition demands, for repurposing existing PCs or for virtual PC deployments. (It supports VirtualBox.)
With many inside the community still disappointed that Linux Mint 12 is opting for Gnome 3 and continuing to work on preserving the Gnome 2 capabilities, it’s better to not get sucked in to that internal discussion and just enjoy a piece of great software for what it is.

Microsoft sues Comet for making 'fake' Windows discs

Microsoft are after blood, issuing proceedings against the UK's own Comet for allegedly creating and then selling 'counterfeit' Windows discs
Microsoft have filed legal proceedings against Comet on the grounds that it believes the UK retailer created and sold 'counterfeit' copies of Windows Vista and Windows XP.
In a statement released today the company laid out its plans on how to proceed and on what grounds it believes it has a right to sue. David Finn, associate general counsel, Worldwide Anti-Piracy and Anti-Counterfeiting at Microsoft believes that Microsoft has more than a strong case.
“Comet’s actions were unfair to customers. We expect better from retailers of Microsoft products — and our customers deserve better, too.”
Countering this Comet came forward with their own statement arguing that they too have a strong case and that by copying the discs they were acting in the interests of the customer.
"Comet has sought and received legal advice from leading counsel to support its view that the production of recovery discs did not infringe Microsoft’s intellectual property."
"Comet firmly believes that it acted in the very best interests of its customers.  It believes its customers had  been adversely affected by the decision to stop supplying recovery discs with each new Microsoft Operating System based computer."
Kim Walker, Partner and Intelectual Property expert at Pinsent Mason's is however less sure about Comet's defence, arguing that actually Microsoft has pretty solid ground to stand on.
"They [Comet] say what it has been doing was in the best interest of customers, but as you know making copies in the interests of customers is not a defence to copyright infringement. Making a backup copy of software is allowed, but only if it’s done by the person entitled to use the software and needing the backup, which is the owner of the PC and not Comet. If the court were to find infringement of copyright then Microsoft would be entitled both to an injunction and damages."
"I doubt Microsoft will get an expedited trial, in which case there would be a wait of around 12 to 18 months before this reaches the courts. In the meantime Comet will no doubt be going for risk mitigation and trying to settle, especially with its own sale being at the top of its agenda."
What do you think, who's in the right and who's in the wrong? Let us know what you think via the comments box below...

Lenovo announces seven laptops for small businesses

In addition to rolling out a ThinkPad X1 running Android and a buttoned-up Ultrabook, Lenovo announced a handful of mainstream laptops aimed at the small business set. Starting at the high end, the 14-inch Edge S430 (pictured) looks the part of a traditional ThinkPad (nay, IBM box), though Lenovo's sprinkled in metal accents and whittled the chassis to a reasonably narrow .8 inches (20.3mm). As the cream of this crop, it packs Thunderbolt technology, Dolby Home Theatre sound, optional NVIDIA Optimus graphics and up to 1TB in storage.

Moving on down the line, the 14-inch Edge E430 and 15-inch E530 give you a choice of Intel Core processors and AMD Fusion APUs. These, too, can be configured with discrete graphics and 1TB hard drives, though being the less-premium systems they are, you can get them in more playful colors like red and cobalt blue. If you crave a little more portability, Lenovo's also offering smaller versions, the 11-inch E130 and the 13-inch E330. Only have $400 to spend? The budget B480 and B580 bring Fusion and Core CPUs, USB 3.0 and 1TB hard drives, at the high end. The S430 will start at $749 when it hits select markets in June, but the rest will arrive in April, with the ThinkPad Edge models going for $549-plus and the B-series laptops fetching $399 and up. Though the 11- and 13-inch Edge laptops and the B-series notebooks will only be offered in certain markets the 14-inch E430 and 15-inch E530 are slated to ship worldwide. More info in the press release, just past the break.

Obama Blasts Republicans on First 2012 Campaign Trip

President Barack Obama has made his first campaign trip of 2012, taking his re-election campaign to Ohio, one of the states where the election is likely to be decided.  The president defied Republican lawmakers by announcing a key appointment over their objections.

A day after the first battle in the presidential election, President Obama directly confronted the opposition Republicans Wednesday by appointing a director for the new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The president had nominated former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to lead the financial watchdog agency last July. But Senate Republicans refused to confirm him, saying the agency would be too powerful and unaccountable.

Mr. Obama told a crowd at a suburban high school the U.S. financial industry needs more regulation, not less.

“The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they do not agree with the law that set up a consumer watchdog in the first place," said President Obama. "They want to weaken the law.  They want to water it down.”

The president, frustrated by the blocked nomination, Wednesday sidestepped the Senate and appointed Cordray.

“When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them," said Obama.

Angry Republican lawmakers were quick to react, saying the president overstepped his authority in making the appointment.

A so-called recess appointment can only be made when the Senate is out of session.  Republicans say that since Senators have been meeting every three days, the Senate is in session.  The White House disagrees.

In a written statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Mr. Obama’s move an “unprecedented power grab” that “arrogantly circumvented the American people.”

A statement from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said he expects the courts to find the appointment to be illegitimate.

House Republicans have asked Cordray to testify before Congress later this month.

Mr. Obama spoke one day after Republican contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished in a virtual first place tie in the Iowa caucuses, with Ron Paul coming in a close third.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Ohio enabled him to take his campaign to one of the states that could decide whether he is re-elected this November.

Much of his speech focused on the president’s advocacy of the middle class, a theme he is likely to highlight throughout the campaign.

“I promise to do everything I can, every day, every minute, every second, to make sure this is a country where hard work and responsibility mean something and everybody can get ahead," said President Obama.

With the Iowa caucuses over, the Republican candidates will battle next in New Hampshire, then South Carolina and Florida, which all have primary elections this month. The candidates have spent much of the campaign so far criticizing Mr. Obama and the Democrats because of the country's weak economy and high unemployment rate.

The president is unopposed for the Democratic Party nomination.

These .xxx domains are ready to hook up

If you always fancied your very own .xxx domain name, it's not too late: plenty of real estate in the Internet's official red light district remains unclaimed, CNET has learned.
WhiteHouse.xxx and NASA.xxx are reserved, but USDOJ.xxx, Treasury.xxx, DARPA.xxx, and USEmbassy.xxx could be yours for as low as $100 a year.
Many school names remain unclaimed. Stanford.xxx, Harvard.xxx, and Princeton.xxx may be off-limits, but Brynmawr.xxx and LoyolaCollege.xxx are available. Others, including Cornell.xxx and UPenn.xxx have been earmarked for auction. (Playboy, which recently published a "Girls of the SEC" feature, take note.)
That's according to a new analysis by Elie Bursztein, a Stanford University researcher who found that of the 50,000 most popular Web sites in the world, only 24 percent have their .xxx counterpart registered.
"There's been a lot of news about people rushing to buy .xxx," Bursztein told CNET today. "But after the dust settled, it turns out that the data don't agree with the hype."
Early reports suggested that companies and schools were snapping up .xxx domains to prevent them from being used for pornographic purposes--especially, perhaps the types of hardcore parodies the adult industry is known for.
Bursztein provided CNET with the raw data from his review of more than 55,000 .xxx domains, which show that the triple-X counterparts of many popular Web sites, including Posterous.xxx and Feedburner.xxx, have not been reserved. We've placed some excerpts below (scroll down).
The list of news organizations that chose not to claim their corresponding .xxx domains includes: TheAtlantic.xxx, DenverPost.xxx, MercuryNews.xxx, NewScientist.xxx, CSMonitor.xxx, PostGazette.xxx, and FinancialPost.xxx.
Salon.xxx will be awarded after an auction, the process that .xxx creator ICM Registry has established for certain popular words. In October, ICM announced that it had sold Gay.xxx at auction for $500,000.
The reluctance of some news organizations to venture into the seamer side of the Web might be no surprise, but there are also plenty of popular adult sites that chose not to make the leap. Dot-com sites that rank among the Internet's most popular 5,000 destinations, according to Alexa, that have left their corresponding triple-X domains unclaimed include H2Porn.com, PornControl.com, and IntPorn.com. Porn star Lexi Love has left LexiLove.xxx unclaimed. (See related CNET article.)
Other domains that will be awarded after an auction: BankOfAmerica.xxx, Missouri.xxx, Toronto.xxx, SanDiego.xxx, Career.xxx, Seattle.xxx, Data.xxx, Library.xxx, Fit.xxx, Worldwide.xxx, and HowTo.xxx.
Elie Bursztein, a Stanford researcher who found that of the top 50,000 most popular Web sites, only 24 percent have registered the corresponding .xxx domains.
Elie Bursztein, a Stanford researcher who found that of the top 50,000 most popular Web sites, only 24 percent have registered the corresponding .xxx domains.
(Credit:Declan McCullagh/CNET)
For would-be porntreprenuers, there is one catch: ICM's policies for .xxx say that only "sponsored community" domains will actually become live Web sites. To make that happen, your .xxx domain has to "provide online entertainment" or be a supporting business, such as providing legal, accounting, catering, and so on. "Manufacturers" also qualify.
ICM Registry, which operates the .xxx top-level domain, said on December 6 that triple-X domains would be available for purchase by the general public. That was preceded by a so-called sunrise period, which allowed adult and non-adult businesses and universities to claim trademark rights to certain .xxx domains.
That resulted in a list of off-limits names unavailable for registration. Jocelyn Johnson, a spokeswoman for ICM Registry, said that other additions to the list came from government agencies that "submitted names to be pulled out of the registry permanently."
Those were "culturally sensitive names, political leaders--it was a wide variety of names," Johnson told CNET. That's "the list of names that are on permanent reserve."
BarackObama.xxx, HillaryClinton.xxx, RonPaul.xxx, and MittRomney.xxx are all set aside and listed in Whois data as "ICM Registry Reserved." So is ChelseaClinton.xxx, Vatican.xxx, God.xxx, and JesusChrist.xxx. The domain ProphetMohammad.xxx is reserved, but blasphemers can purchase the common variant of ProphetMuhammet.xxx.
Ex-presidents aren't necessarily treated equally: JimmyCarter.xxx can't be bought. But GeorgeHWBush.xxx was available until it was purchased on December 13 by Chicago-based Skylark Enterprises LLC.
Santorum.xxx was bought by a fellow named Vladimir Karastoyanov in Toronto, who did not respond to an e-mail query asking him what exactly he'll do with it. And Palin.xxx was purchased on December 11 and is currently parked at GoDaddy.com without any content, not even a link to the porn parody Who's Nailin' Paylin?.
Update 11 p.m. PT: Since this article appeared, some of the domains mentioned have been purchased, including ProphetMuhammet.xxx. Skylark Enterprises, which bought GeorgeHWBush.xxx, responded with this message: "Skylark originally intended to syndicate adult content on this site as well as several others. Upon further consideration, we concluded that it would not be worth our time to do so. Thus, Skylark has decided to resell it to other interest [sic] parties instead." And we've updated the article to clarify how ICM's auction process works.

Samsung Galaxy Note rocking Android 4.0 with CM9

Probably one of the most impressive devices as of late is the Samsung Galaxy Note. While it’s still currently not available in the US or many other parts of the world it still has seen wide adoption with over 1 million sales, and the development community is flourishing. Below we have some Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on the 5.3″ phone — tablet — cutting board.
Below is a video showing the progress of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and CyanogenMod 9 on the Galaxy Note. Obviously this is still very much in the early stages but as you can see in the video performance is quite stellar already.
Having Ice Cream Sandwich on that gorgeous 5.3″ AMOLED display sure sounds nice although I’m not sure I’d use that thing as a phone or not still. The Galaxy Nexus seems perfect for me (and I love it). According to the awesome developer at XDA, Maui this is still heavily under development and things such as the camera, bluetooth, some hardware accel and more are all not working just yet.
Galaxy Note CM9 ICS
WiFi, data and calling, the s-pen (stylus) and more are all working just great and enough to make this almost a daily driver unless you need a highly accurate battery reading or bluetooth. Accessing the internal storage with MTP is still having issues and you’ll need to push things with ADB. If you are wondering what that is then this project isn’t for you. Being in an early beta stage it’s recommended that you know what you are doing if you decide to flash and give this ROM a try on your own Galaxy Note. Give it a try at your own risk and make sure to ask any questions before getting started. All the information, links, and download are available at the link below.

Oracle, Google Android Patent Infringement Trial Set for March

he judge in the Oracle versus Google patent infringement case has set a March 2012 trial date, established a three-part trial and ruled on several outstanding motions in the case.

The ongoing legal battle between Oracle and Google has come one step closer to a head, with the presiding judge setting a date for the trial to begin in March and ruling on several motions that give both sides mini victories.
Jan. 4 was a busy day for the parties in the Oracle versus Google patent infringement lawsuit. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the case will go to a jury trial that will start on or after March 19, 2012. The trial had originally been set to start on Oct. 31, 2011, but was postponed because of scheduling conflicts with the court.
Oracle had recently asked the court for the trial to begin as early as January, while Google was fine with waiting until at least July for the trial to begin. Oracle’s claim was that the longer the company waits for relief from Google’s alleged patent infringement, the more time Google has to reap rewards from the increasing consumer adoption of Android devices.
Judge Alsup also stuck to his earlier proposal for a three-part or trifurcated trial. The first part of the trial will be deal with the copyright infringement claims of the case, the second part will deal with patent infringement claims and the third part will deal with “all remaining issues,” including “damages and willfulness,” said Florian Mueller, author of FOSS Patents, who has been watching the case closely. Oracle and Google have seven days to file objections to the judge’s pretrial order.
Meanwhile, perhaps going to the issue of “willfulness,” Judge Lindholm ruled on Jan. 4 that a possibly incriminating email by Google engineer Tim Lindholm could be entered into evidence. Google had argued that the Lindholm email should not be admitted into the case because it was subject to attorney-client privilege or work-product rules.
Alsup shot that argument down for the sixth time, Mueller said. Google had argued that Lindholm was not in a position to analyze whether Android infringed on Oracle’s Java patents. But the Judge cited Lindholm’s background saying he was “quite knowledgeable about Java and Android technology as separate platforms and any potential crossover between the two platforms." Lindholm joined Google from Sun Microsystems, which created Java, and he was part of the team that developed the Java language and platform.
The Lindholm email reads:
"What we've actually been asked to do (by Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin]) is to investigate what technical alternatives exist to Java for Android and Chrome. We've been over a bunch of these, and think they all suck. We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java under the terms we need."
Earlier in the case, Judge Alsup cited the potential importance of the Lindholm email, saying that all a competent lawyer might need is Lindholm’s comments “and the Magna Carta” to argue that Google had willfully infringed on Oracle’s patents. If found to have willfully infringed on Oracle’s patents, Google could be forced to pay triple damages by the court.
In another important ruling, Judge Alsup ruled that Oracle cannot exclude evidence relating to any ongoing U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reexaminations of Oracle’s patents claimed in the case. Google asked the USPTO to reexamine the Oracle patents. Recently, the USPTO came back with a “final” rejection of one of the Oracle patents in the case. However, Oracle has the right to appeal that decision and may yet do so.
In all, Judge Alsup ruled on nine outstanding motions in the case, including denying an Oracle motion to exclude evidence or argument that third-party OEMs changed infringing components of Android and restricting Oracle's ability to present evidence obtained from Motorola Mobility, among other things.

Samsung’s new Galaxy Ace Plus announced, looks very familiar

Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus
Samsung has given its popular Galaxy Ace an update, releasing the Galaxy Ace Plus. Features include a larger screen, more powerful processor and a very familiar design.
Not content with enraging Apple with their alleged iPhone 4-alike designs, Samsung has now taken a shine to the previous model. We can see it, you can see it and it’s fairly likely the lawyers can see it too. We’re talking about the distinct design similarity between Samsung’s new Galaxy Ace Plus and the Apple iPhone 3G/3GS.
Yes, the camera lens may be in a different spot, but the front and side views along with that grey surround make it uncannily reminiscent of the previous iPhone. Well, we’re sure Samsung knows what it’s doing, so let’s move on and take a look at the spec of the new device.
The original Galaxy Ace has been a big seller, thanks to a very reasonable price and the Android operating system. The new Galaxy Ace Plus improves in some areas, but decides to play it safe in others.
Samsung has ever-so slightly increased the screen size, from 3.5-inches to 3.65-inches, but has left the resolution the same at 320 x 480. Next is a slight boost in power, with the Ace Plus using a 1Ghz processor instead of the old 800Mhz chip.
Like its predecessor, it uses a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash and Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but adds Bluetooth 3.0 and Samsung’s range of apps and services, such as the ChatON service.
Initially, the Ace Plus will launch in Russia later this month, but will then spread to the rest of the world including Europe, Asia and Latin America. The price has yet to be confirmed, and the lawsuit yet to be filed.

Apple TV Set: New iTV Rumors Say Apple TV Set in 2 Sizes, Ready To Go

The latest Apple TV 3 update rumor speaks of an Apple TV set in two different sizes, now unofficially dubbed iTV, with Siri features for navigation and changing channels, Apple TV apps for unique content development and iCloud action, and possibly a new iPad 3 as a remote. Imagine the potential Apple TV vs Google TV fight that could happen at CES (although unlikely). Still, would be fun. Just sayin.

Apple TV Rumors

The new Apple TV rumor on an Apple TV Set says that the television set, or iTV,  is in two models -- 42-inch and 50-inch models. The clincher: The Apple TV set is in the studio of Apple VP of industrial design Jony Ive right now, as told by a former Apple employee to USA Today. This means nothing for an Apple TV release date, because if it's true it just means development, not necessarily a final product. Most Apple TV features at this point are hard to determine with exactness.
"Apple's lead designer Jony Ive has "a slick 50" TV" in his locked-down studio at Apple's headquarters, according to a former Apple employee," reads the news from Business Insider. The report in USA Today also mentioned that the former Apple employee said one of the Apple TV features was built-in Wi-Fi. We keep hearing about the "connected TV," which we all know is coming from the industry en masse anyway, so this would be no surprise.

Apple TV Features

If this is true, then the Apple TV set rumors we've been hearing were close to being on track. We've heard in the past that Apple TV features included three sizes (although different ones), but had thought through more than one size. Siri would be likely, as Apple seems to have banked a big part of its future on Siri. iCloud and iTunes could obviously play a role for Apple TV apps and movies and TV shows. This doesn’t advance the notion of an Apple TV 3 update or determine the Apple TV box is going away -- there’s code for an Apple TV 3 update for iOS5, so the question is, how does it play out? Also, the iPad and iPhone would be a cinch as a remote control.
Earlier this week, the word dropped about an Apple Media Event in New York ... just to be wildly speculative, what do you think about the possibility of some kind of content announcement for iTunes and iCloud with movies and TV shows? I know the current consensus is that it's probably something book related, but what if that's wrong? Just before Christmas the word dropped that Apple was meeting with media execs on Apple TV, so what if they were massaging content deals? What are your thoughts?

Yes, You Can Get Sober On Facebook: Put It In Timeline

Many have documented the widespread use of Facebook while intoxicated, but those who make New Year’s resolutions to sober up go uncounted.
A submenu in timeline provides a convenient way to commemorate recovery from addiction,especially when the privacy settings are rigged to limit visibility to likeminded folks.
The international organization with the greatest success in helping people overcome addictions has “a tradition of anonymity at the level of press, radio and film.”
That policy has had individual members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step recovery groups guessing about what to do with respect to Facebook, especially given the widespread misunderstanding of the privacy settings on the site.
These organizations refrain from maintaining official pages and groups on the site, but individual members tend to post status updates about recovery milestones.

Now the new timeline profile includes a simple way to mark one’s sobriety date, which recovering alcoholics and addicts often regard as a second birthday.
Privacy settings can limit visibility of this life event so as to respect anonymity — while Facebook’s smart lists don’t detect whether friends are members of 12-step organizations, one can manually configure a list consisting of contacts from just such a group.
To post a sobriety date, head for the area where you input a status update on a profile page, then click on the third link to the right, labeled “life event.”
That pulls down a menu from which you’ll want to select “health and wellness.”
Clicking on that pulls out another set of options to the right.
They include “overcame an illness” and “quit a habit,” which could function as ways to commemorate a recovery milestone if you don’t mind having either of those labels.
To use your own words to describe your milestone, such as “sobriety date,”  click on “other life event.”
The set of fields that come up include date, name of the event, location and “who with.”

Facebook announces 2012 Hacker Cup

Summary: Facebook today announced 2012 Hacker Cup. Registration is now open. The contest begins this month and ends two months later, with multiple rounds of elimination as well as various prizes.

Facebook today announced open registration for its second annual Hacker Cup, an annual algorithmic programming contest open to engineers from around the world. Programmers will be judged on accuracy and speed as they race to solve algorithmic problems to advance through up to five rounds of programming challenges. The winner will receive the title World Champion for Facebook’s 2012 Hacker Cup.
The competition will start with a 72-hour Qualification Round on January 20 at 4:00 PM PST. It will end on January 23 at 4:00 PM PST. All registered competitors will be presented with three problems. Every competitor who correctly solves at least one problem will advance to Online Round 1.
Online Round 1 will last 24 hours from January 28 at 10:00 AM PT to January 29 at 10:00 AM PT. To advance to Online Round 2, participants must solve at least one problem correctly. If more than 500 people solve at least one problem correctly, then the top 500 participants will advance, as well as everyone else who answered the same number of questions correctly as the 500th-place contestant.
Online Round 2 will last three hours from February 4 at 1:00 PM PT to February 4 at 4:00 PM PT. The competitors will have three hours to solve the presented problem sets. The top-scoring 100 participants from Online Round 2 will receive an official Hacker Cup t-shirt and will be notified via e-mail that they have advanced to Online Round 3.
Online Round 3 will last three hours from February 11 at 1:00 PM PT to February 11 at 4:00 PM PT. The 100 competitors will have three hours to solve the presented problem sets. The top-scoring 25 competitors from Online Round 3 will be notified via e-mail that they have advanced to the final round at Facebook, and the company will fly them out to its headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
If you’re not from the US, you should know finalists will be responsible for obtaining their own entry visa before arrival in the country. Facebook will reimburse the finalist for any visa application fee and up to $100 USD in travel expenses incurred in obtaining the visa, but the company will not reimburse any fees or expenses related to obtaining a passport.
The final round of competition will be on March 17. Prizes will include cash and “other awesome goodies.” More specifically, the first prize is $5,000 USD, title as world champion, and the honor of being immortalized on the Hacker Cup trophy. The remaining prizes are as follows: $2,000 for second place, $1,000 for third, $100 for fourth through 25th, and “awesome t-shirts” for the top 100 hackers coming out of the second online round.
If you want to try the problems from last year’s qualification round, you can check them out here: Problems. More details and announcements will be posted at facebook.com/hackercup. You may also want to take a look at the FAQ as well as the Terms & Conditions.
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