Archive for May, 2011

May 2, 2011

DISH And EchoStar Settle Patent Litigation With TiVo, Agree To Pay $500 Million [Social Media]

by Avinash Saxena

SOCIAL MEDIA  DISH Network and EchoStar this morning announced that they’ve agreed to pay TiVo $500 million to settle all of their ongoing patent litigation with the digital video recorder company.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, DISH and EchoStar will initially cough up $300 million, with the remaining $200 million distributed in six equal annual payments between 2012 and 2017.

The companies have agreed to dismiss all pending litigation with prejudice, and to dissolve all injunctions against DISH and EchoStar.

In addition, TiVo granted DISH a license under its Time Warp patent and certain related patents, for their remaining lives. Time Warp is software that allows users to record one TV program while watching another.

TiVo says it will also play a role in helping DISH Network promote the Blockbuster digital video service (DISH just acquired substantially all of the assets of Blockbuster, which went belly upin September 2010, for roughly $228 million in cash).

TiVo also granted EchoStar a life-long license under the same patents, to design and make certain DVR-enabled products solely for DISH Network and two international customers.

EchoStar, in turn, granted TiVo a license under certain DVR-related patents for TiVo-branded products.

TiVo originally sued DISH and EchoStar back in 2004 over its patented DVR technology back when the two were still a single company. They won the suit, but the court decided in May 2010 to reconsider its verdict. Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court then moved touphold the ruling that EchoStar infringed TiVo patents, which ultimately led to today’s announcement.

TiVo will hold a conference call at 9:00 AM ET today to discuss the settlement agreement.

In related news, DISH Network this morning reported its first quarter 2011 financial results and announced that Michael Kelly has been named president of its new subsidiary Blockbuster.

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May 2, 2011

Motorola EX130 feature phone packs in dual screens [Tech]

by Avinash Saxena

TECH  For the most part, geeks overlook the feature phone category altogether in favor of the smartphones which don’t generally cost that much more. A new feature phone from Motorola has turned up today the phone has one interesting feature that will have some taking a closer look at the EX130. This phone hasn’t gone official yet. It runs the Qualcomm Brew MP operating system that has been running on feature phones for a while now.

The EX130 has a main screen that is 2.8-inches and has a screen resolution of 320 x 240. It has 128MB of memory and 64MB of RAM. The thing that has captured the interest of some people perusing the specs of the phone is that it has a thin little OLED screen at the bottom of the device with a resolution of 96 x 16. That little screen would presumably allow the user to have scrolling feeds of important data that they can access while doing other things on the phone.

What I mentioned above are all the features that we know right now. There are key items that are a mystery, such as what network the EX130 will run on. Whether it runs on GSM or CDMA networks is unknown. The price is also unknown, but considering it is a feature phone, it can’t be particularly expensive.

May 2, 2011

Bin Laden killed in shootout with U.S. forces in Pakistan [News Report]

by Avinash Saxena

WORLD  U.S. officials  said bin Laden was found in a million-dollar compound in the upscale town of Abbottabad, 60 km (35 miles) north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. A source familiar with the operation said bin Laden was shot in the head.

“Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama declared in a hastily called, late-night White House speech announcing the death of the elusive head of the militant Islamic group behind a series of deadly bombings across the world.

Leaders worldwide praised the killing as a dramatic success in the war against al Qaeda, although many analysts cautioned it was too soon to say bin Laden’s death would mark a turning point in the battle against a highly fractured network of militants.

Jubilant, flag-waving celebrations erupted in Washington and New York after Obama’s announcement. It was the biggest national security victory for the president since he took office in early 2009 and could give him a political boost as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Obama may now also find it easier to wind down the nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan, begun after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000.

But the operation could complicate relations with Pakistan, already frayed over U.S. drone strikes in the west of the country and the jailing of a CIA contractor accused of killing two Pakistani men.

A U.S. official said Pakistani authorities were told the details of the raid after it had taken place.

The revelation bin Laden was living in style in a mansion will also put Pakistani officials under pressure to explain how he could have been right under their noses. Residents in Abbottabad said a Pakistani military training academy is near the compound.

“For some time there will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad,” said Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst.

U.S. officials said American forces were led to the fortress-like three-story building in Abbottabad after more than four years tracking one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers, whom U.S. officials said was identified by men captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden,” a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters in Washington.

Bin Laden was finally found after authorities discovered in August 2010 that the courier lived with his brother and their families in an unusual and extremely high-security building in Pakistan, officials said.

“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw: an extraordinarily unique compound,” a senior administration official said.

“The bottom line of our collection and our analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist target. The experts who worked this issue for years assessed that there was a strong probability that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin Laden,” another administration official said.

Bin Laden and three adult men, including a son of bin Laden, were killed along with a woman who was used as a shield by a male combatant, officials said.

The New York Times said bin Laden’s body was taken to Afghanistan and then buried at sea.

RESIDENT WOKEN BY BLASTS, GUNFIRE

The operation took under 40 minutes. A U.S. helicopter was lost due to a mechanical problem and its crew and assault force safely evacuated, officials said. No Americans were harmed in the operation, Obama said.

“After midnight, a large number of commandos encircled the compound. Three helicopters were hovering overhead,” said Nasir Khan, a resident of the town.

“All of a sudden there was firing toward the helicopters from the ground. There was intense firing and then I saw one of the helicopters crash,” said Khan, who had watched the dramatic scene unfold from his rooftop.

Authorities said bin Laden’s hideaway, built in 2005, was about eight times larger than other homes in the area. It had security features including 12- to 18-foot walls topped with barbed wire, internal walls for extra privacy, and access controlled through two security gates.

It had no telephone or Internet connection.

“It is not a surprise that bin Laden was captured in an urban heartland,” said Sajjan Gohel of the Asia Pacific Foundation.

“Many of al-Qaeda’s senior leaders have been captured in Pakistani cities. It had become a myth that the al Qaeda leadership were hiding in caves in the tribal areas.”

POSSIBLE REPRISALS

Bin Laden’s death triggered a travel alert for Americans worldwide, the U.S. State Department said, warning of the potential for anti-American violence.

Thousands of people gathered outside the White House, waving American flags, cheering and chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Car drivers blew their horns in celebration and people streamed to Lafayette Park across from the street, as police vehicles with their lights flashing stood vigil.

“I’m down here to witness the history. My boyfriend is commissioning as a Marine next week. So I’m really proud of the troops,” Laura Vogler, a junior at American University in Washington, said outside the White House.

Similar celebrations erupted at New York’s Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Center twin towers felled by hijacked airplanes on September 11.

A market perception that the death of bin Laden reduced the security risks facing the United States lifted the dollar from a three-year low and raised stock index futures.

U.S. crude oil prices also fell. “Current oil prices are regarded by most analysts as carrying significant risk premium at current levels and good news on the geopolitical front has the potential to move prices back below $100,” said Ric Spooner, chief analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney.

However, some analysts said the market impact would be short lived.

Many Americans had given up hope of finding bin Laden after he vanished in the mountains of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Intelligence that originated last August provided the clues that eventually led to bin Laden’s trail, the president said. A U.S. official said Obama gave the final order to pursue the operation last Friday morning.

“The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of men, women and children,” Obama said.

CAPTURED DEAD

Former President George W. Bush, who vowed to bring bin Laden to justice “dead or alive” but never did, called the operation a “momentous achievement” after Obama called him with the news.

Martin Indyk, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, described bin Laden’s death as “a body blow” to al Qaeda at a time when its ideology was already being undercut by the popular revolutions in the Arab world.

Other experts were more cautious. “It changes little in terms of on-the-ground realities — by the time of his death bin Laden was not delivering operational or tactical orders to the numerous al Qaeda affiliates across the world,” said Rick Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Statements of appreciation poured in from both sides of Washington’s political divide. Republican Senator John McCain declared, “I am overjoyed that we finally got the world’s top terrorist.”

India said the killing underlined its concern that “terrorists belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in Pakistan,” India’s home ministry said in New Delhi.

A U.S. official said that the retrieval of the body may help convince any doubters that bin Laden is really dead.

The United States is conducting DNA testing on bin Laden and used facial recognition techniques to help identify him, the official said.

The United States is ensuring that bin Laden’s body is being handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition, a U.S. official said.

Bin Laden had been the subject of a search since he eluded U.S. soldiers and Afghan militia forces in a large-scale assault on the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan in 2001.

The trail quickly went cold after he disappeared and many intelligence officials believed he had been hiding in Pakistan.

While in hiding, bin Laden had taunted the West and advocated his militant Islamist views in videotapes spirited from his hideaway.

Besides September 11, Washington has also linked bin Laden to a string of attacks — including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the warship USS Cole in Yemen. (Additional reporting by Jeff MasonPatricia ZengerleArshad MohammedAlister BullMissy RyanMark HosenballRichard CowanKristin RobertsAndrew Quinn and Tabassum Zakaria, Joanne Allen in Washington and Chris Allbritton in Islamabad; Writing by Steve Holland; editing by David Storey and Dean Yates)

May 1, 2011

John Paul II beatified in Vatican ceremony

by Avinash Saxena

EUROPE  The BBC’s Duncan Kennedy, who is in Rome, said John Paul II’s coffin would be move to a more prominent place

The late Pope, John Paul II, has been officially beatified at a ceremony at the Vatican in front of hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful.

Among those at St Peter’s Square is French nun Marie Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease.

Her apparently miraculous cure is part of the case for the beatification, the last stage before sainthood.

It comes amid criticism of the Church for the speed of the beatification and the clerical child sex abuse scandal.

Much of the abuse occurred while John Paul II was Pope, from 1979-2005, and the Church has been criticised for not doing enough to punish those found responsible.

Police in Rome estimated that one million people had come to the city for the event, including large numbers of pilgrims from the late Pope’s native Poland.

St Peter’s Square, in the Vatican, was packed, with the faithful waving banners and flags as Pope Benedict XVI declared his predecessor blessed, or beatified.

Rome has not seen crowds of this size since the death of Pope John Paul II six years ago when some three million pilgrims converged on the Italian capital, says the BBC’s Vatican correspondent David Willey.

Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was among those attending the beatification.

A Roman Catholic, he was given special permission by the EU to fly to Italy despite being the subject of a travel ban.

The presidents of Poland and Mexico are also among some 90 heads of state and other dignitaries attending the beatification.

Giant screen

St Peter’s Square was transformed for the occasion with a giant video screen showing Pope John Paul II’s life story and a massive photograph hung from the white colonnades.

The late pontiff’s coffin was exhumed from the crypt below St Peter’s Basilica to be placed in front of the altar.

After the Mass, it will be moved to a different part of the basilica.

Some have questioned the Church’s speed in beatifying the late Pope, just six years after his death.

Others have criticised John Paul II’s handling of the Church’s child sex abuse scandal.

“This sprint to sainthood is to deflect examinations into JPII’s unedifying record on clerical child abuse – and, with it, Benedict’s own role,” said Keith Porteous Wood of Britain’s National Secular Society.

Although John Paul II will be remembered as one of the great Popes of modern times, says our Vatican correspondent, the sex abuse scandal is the unspoken footnote of history.

The Vatican says he could not have been expected to do something about events he knew nothing of, but it is unlikely he was completely unaware of the growing scandal, our correspondent says.

‘I was cured’

Beatification, or declaring a person to be “blessed”, is the necessary prelude to full sainthood.

For this to happen, the Vatican must declare the person to have performed a miracle.

In John Paul II’s case, Sister Marie, 49, said she and her fellow nuns had prayed for the intercession of the Pope after his death to cure her from Parkinson’s Disease.

Her sudden cure had no logical medical explanation and she later resumed her work as a maternity nurse, the Vatican says.

Appearing at a vigil on Saturday, she told the crowd: “I was cured on the night between June 2 and June 3, 2005.

“I woke up at four in the morning and felt that something had changed in me.”

If the late Pope is declared to have performed another miracle he will be eligible for canonisation as a saint.

The vigil had the feel of a youth festival, correspondents say, with groups of young people dancing and singing. Many carried backpacks and sleeping bags in preparation for a night to be spent outdoors.

“It’s true that nowadays most of the young don’t care about religion, but John Paul showed us love, and love is all we need,” said Matea Sarlija, a 21-year-old Croat, who had spent 10 hours on a bus to arrive in Rome for the vigil.

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May 1, 2011

The Best School Districts For Your Real Estate Buck [News Report]

by Avinash Saxena

BUSINESS  Falmouth, Maine, is a picturesque waterfront town 110 miles north of Boston with moderate housing costs (median price: $351,550), per-student public-school spending just a touch above the state average, and an enviable position at the top of the Forbes/GreatSchools list of Best Schools for Your Real Estate Buck.

Not much stands out to explain why the 2,100-student school district does so well. The seventh-graders all have laptops, but so does every other middle-schooler in Maine, thanks to a 2002 program that has distributed Apple ( AAPL – news people ) MacBooks throughout the state. Teacher salaries are generous by Maine standards, at around $51,000 for a 10-year veteran, but low compared with $75,000 to $100,000 a teacher can earn in New York. At $10,000 a year, per-pupil spending is slightly above average for Maine but well below the $14,000 or so big cities like Chicago and New York spend.

Here’s one clue to the superior performance of schools in this 10,669-resident town, which was founded in 1658: Teacher turnover is extremely low. In the 13 years Barbara Powers has been school superintendent, exactly two teachers have left for jobs at other schools.

“People aren’t using us as a launch pad to somewhere else,” said Powers.

 Falmouth scored the highest on our second annual look at the places in America where your housing dollar will go the furthest in getting your children a great education. Done in partnership withGreatSchools, we analyzed 17,589 towns and cities in the 49 states that administer standardized, statewide tests (Nebraska doesn’t have one test). GreatSchools also used results from the most recent National Assessment for Educational Progress data, a federal program that tests randomly selected students in fourth, eighth and 12th grades to provide state-level assessments of learning and educational progress. By combining the two datasets, GreatSchools could calibrate the results of individual cities in a single state with national standards to come up with an absolute score for each city. It then graded them on a curve with the highest-ranking city, Falmouth, representing 100. GreatSchools assesses more than 200,000 public schools, including public charter schools.

There are difficulties in ranking schools according to the town or city they are in. In addition to leaving out Nebraska, GreatSchools had to eliminate towns with less than 10,000 residents or fewer than five schools. And cities with sprawling, unified school districts like Houston and Los Angeles might harbor extremely high-scoring schools whose results are cancelled out by underperforming ones.

For the Forbes list GreatSchools also eliminated towns with unemployment rates above the state average, since few people would be motivated to move to such areas just to get a bargain on public education. Forbes then cut the list by median housing prices: $100,000-$200,000, $200,000-$300,000, $300,000-$400,000 and so on. Our top cut is over $800,000.

The resulting lists once again demolish the idea that more money equals better schools. Falmouth’s performance outshone that of big-dollar school districts like Manhattan Beach, Calif., and New Canaan, Conn., both of which have median house prices above $1.1 million yet scored sixth and 19th, respectively, on an absolute scale. In fact, towns with homes costing between $200,000 to $399,000 represented a sweet spot in the list, grabbing more schools in the Top Ten than any other grouping, including the first, fourth and fifth-place finishers as well as schools scoring 13th and 14th. In the over $800,000 category, only Manhattan Beach was in the Top 10, while the rest scored 19th or worse.

Even Palo Alto, home to the brainiacs who brought us large hunks of the modern technology economy, scored a lowly 29th on an absolute scale. Parents willing to move to Pella, Iowa–median home price, $148,200–can avail themselves of the schools ranking third. St. Johns, Fla., with a median home price of $181,700, came in ninth with a score significantly above that of Westport, Conn., where a typical house costs $930,000.

May 1, 2011

Rugged Android Smartphone Takes a Licking [Video-Today]

by Avinash Saxena

VIDEOS  Casio‘s made tough “feature phones” before, including the other members of the G’zOne family, the Ravine and Brigade. But this is the G’zOne family’s first smartphone, a relatively slim and compact Android 2.2 handset ($199.99 on Verizon with a new two-year agreement) that offers a variety of features to roughnecks both real and imagined.

As you can see in the video above, this bruiser can take a beating, surviving a half-hour of immersion, even in a whirlpool. Although we didn’t drop it 26 times from a height of 4 feet, Casio says it can handle that too. It can withstand saltwater spray and 95% humidity for 24 hours, as well as 15,000 foot altitude for an hour, unbearably high and low temperatures and even dust storms. See the gallery below for the full list of indignities it can allegedly withstand.

The result? This is a smartphone that you can either take on any adventure, or place in the hands of your slightly uncoordinated daughter (sorry, honey).

Holding this phone in my hands, it reminds me of a little Jeep. Not only did it hang tough in my testing, it looks tough with its four exposed “tough-look” screws on each side and hard plastic encasement.

Even though this is a smartphone that’s obviously looking for adventure, it still packs the niceties of most Android 2.2 smartphones, including a decent 5-megapixel autofocus camera, Bluetooth and GPS. Oh, and its sound quality on cellphone calls is just as good most other cellphones. But if you’re looking for the latest 4G technology, this is not your phone — it only supports 3G/EV-DO data capability. That might not matter to you ifVerizon’s 4G service hasn’t made it into your area yet.

Beyond its Android 2.2 features, the Commando gives you a variety of outdoorsy and athletic features. Go into its G’z Gear menu, and you’ll see eight apps that are tailor-made for fitness buffs and outdoorsy types. Most are useful, and all are interesting. On board is a compass that shows you distances to national parks and landmarks, a pedometer, trip memory, indicators of tides and moon phases, a thermometer and even a star finder to help you point out constellations as you sleep under the stars.

May 1, 2011

South Park takes a poke at Apple data tracking controversy [Tech]

by Avinash Saxena

South Park

TECH  Apple chief Steve Jobs in South Park with his plans for a HumancentiPad

South Park returned to US television on Wednesday night and wasted no time tackling the controversy surrounding Apple and its alleged “big brother” tendencies.

The sharply satirical and topical animated show, now in its 15th season, latched on to the recent revelations that Apple’s iPhone and iPad keep track of everywhere you go, and stores the data in hidden files on the devices.

In the episode, which also parodies the 2010 Dutch horror film The Human Centipede, Apple chief Steve Jobs decides to create a new product – a HumancentiPad, a hybrid of the iPhoneiPad and three human beings. One of the boys from South Park, Kyle Broflovski, is chosen to take part in the experiment after he carelessly clicks on “I agree” without reading the new iTunes terms and conditions. The result can be seen below.

South ParkElsewhere in the episode, South Park’s resident misanthrope Eric Cartman gets rather upset when his mother refuses to buy him an iPad, offering to buy him the cheaper “Toshiba HandiBook” instead.

This is not the first time that technology icons have come under the withering gaze of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. In 2007, the show won an Emmy award for the episode Make Love Not Warcraft, which lovingly parodied the online roleplaying game World of Warcraft. That episode was created with the support of World of Warcraft developer Blizzard. And recent series have featured episodes about Facebook, Bill Gates, the internet and the movie Tron.

Critical reaction to the HumancentiPad episode has been largely positive. Writing at the Entertainment Weekly website, Ken Tucker said:

Joining together two wildly disparate elements, one of the best-known entities in the world (Apple and its products such as the iPad) and one of the least-known (the cult film The Human Centipede), the half hour was an unspeakable pleasure.

IGN.com critic Ramsey Isler says the ridiculousness of user agreements and those who don’t read them is a point well made:

We should all be a wee bit more cognizant of exactly what we’re agreeing to (although the enforceability of unreasonable terms in EULAs can always be judged by the courts). But the bigger issue here is one of putting your faith in a corporate giant that may not have your best interests in mind.

Myself, I thought the episode was largely hilarious – particularly the selfish Cartman’s foul-mouthed tirade when his mother refuses to buy him an iPad. And big respect to Stone and Parker for not taking the easy route and making jokes at the expense of Jobs’s ongoing cancer battle – fair play for attacking the company, and not the man. But I do wonder if maybe the Human Centipede references were not a step too far.

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