Thursday, October 29, 2009

Internet's 40th Birthday


Technology stars, pundits, and entrepreneurs joined the Internet's father on Thursday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his culture-changing child.

"It's the 40th year since the infant Internet first spoke," saidUniversity of California, Los Angeles, professor Leonard Kleinrock, who headed the team that first linked computers online in 1969.

Kleinrock led an anniversary event that blended reminiscence of the Internet's past with debate about its future.

"There is going to be an ongoing controversy about where we have been and where we are going," said Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the popular news and blog website that bears her name.

"It is not just about the Internet; it is about our times. We are going to need desperately to tap into the better angels of our nature and make our lives not just about ourselves but about our communities and our world."

Huffington was on hand to discuss the power the Internet gives to grass roots organizers on a panel with Kleinrock and Social Brain Foundation director Isaac Mao.

"The Internet is a democratizing element; everyone has an equivalent voice," Kleinrock said. "There is no way back at this point. We can't turn it off. The Internet Age is here."

Leonard Kleinrock never imagined Facebook, Twitter, or YouTubethat day 40 years ago when his team gave birth to what is now taken for granted as the Internet.

"The net is penetrating every aspect of our lives," Kleinrock said to a room of about 200 people and an equal number watching online.

"As a teenager the Internet is behaving badly, the dark side has emerged. The question is when it grows into a young adult will it get over this period of misbehaving?"

Kleinrock referred to spam emails, online scams and malicious software spread by crooks as an unexpected dark side of the Internet.

On October 29, 1969 Kleinrock led a team that got a computer atUCLA to "talk" to one at a research institute.

Kleinrock was driven by a certainty that computers were destined to speak to each other and that the resulting network should be as simple to use as telephones.

US telecom colossus AT&T ran lines connecting the computers for ARPANET, a project backed with money from a research arm of the US military.

A key to getting computers to exchange data was breaking digitized information into packets fired between on-demand with no wasting of time, according to Kleinrock.

Engineers began typing "LOG" to log into the distant computer, which crashed after getting the "O."

"So, the first message was 'Lo' as in 'Lo and behold'," Kleinrock recounted. "We couldn't have a better, more succinct first message."

Kleinrock's team logged in on the second try, sending digital data packets between computers on the ARPANET. Computers at two other US universities were added to the network by the end of that year.

Funding came from the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) established in 1958 in response to the launch of a Sputnikspace flight by what was then the Soviet Union.

US leaders were in a technology race with Cold War rival Russia.

The National Science Foundation added a series of super computers to the network in the late 1980s, opening the online community to more scientists.

The Internet caught the public's attention in the form of email systems in workplaces and ignited a "dot-com" industry boom that went bust at the turn of the century.

Kleinrock, 75, sees the Internet spreading into everything.

"The next step is to move it into the real world," Kleinrock said. "The Internet will be present everywhere. I will walk into a room and it will know I am there. It will talk back to me."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Analyst: PlayStation 3 Over Xbox 360 and Wii in September

How long since Sony's PlayStation 3 was selling pole position? Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter predicts they've finally grabbed the top slot in North American September hardware sales, reaching 410,000 units or a 76% improvement year-over-year. That's against Nintendo with a projected 390,000 Wii units (down 45% from last year) and Microsoft with a projected 350,000 Xbox 360 units (up 1% year-over-year).

A bright spot everyone can celebrate: In his note, Pachter forecasts September video game software sales of $750 million versus last year's $618 million, a 21% year-over-year upswing, and definitive return to double-digit growth after six months of double-digit declines.

Pachter predicts that September hardware unit sales will be 2,105,000 units--still down by 5% compared to September 2008--but notes the huge uptick over the last five months sales, which were down an average of 19%.

In related news, Sony's Patrick Seybold told Kotaku sales of the PlayStation Portable shot up 300% following the release of the company's new smaller, disc-free PSP Go. The launch also generated a "significant increase in revenue for [the] PlayStation Network, driven by a 200 percent lift in PSP game downloads purchased from [the] PlayStation Store" in North America.

NPD's retail sales report releases next Thursday after market close.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Venezula to Outlaw Violent Video Games

CARACAS, Venezuela -

Shouts of "Kill him! Kill him!" ring out as the preteens train their virtual assault rifles on the last remaining terrorist and spray him with bullets. Blood splatters. The enemy collapses. And they cheerfully wrap up another game of "Counter-Strike."

The most popular video games among kids often imitate life outside this Internet cafe in San Augustin — one of the many crime-ridden slums in Venezuela's capital, where residents say too many of the young players easily trade joysticks for guns.

In a bid to curb that trend, Venezuela's National Assembly is on track to prohibit violent video games and toys. The proposed legislation, which received initial approval in September, is expected to get a final vote in the coming weeks.

Parents applaud the proposed ban. But critics argue the bill is little more than a public relations stunt by supporters of President Hugo Chavez to camouflage his government's inability to deal with Venezuela's rampant violent crime — the country's most pressing problem according to public opinion polls.

Chavez's government stopped releasing complete annual murder figures in 2005 amid rising concerns. But last year, the Justice Ministry said homicides averaged 152 a week, or roughly 7,900 for the year. That's more than five times the murder rate in Texas, which has roughly the same population as Venezuela.

As manager of the cafe in San Augustin, Jenny Rangel struggles with a moral dilemma as she stands beneath a "Scarface" movie poster and watches the virtual shoot-'em-up. Like many of her neighbors, Rangel rushes home at nightfall before gunshots begin echoing through the barrio.

"The message for them is that you must shoot and kill," Rangel said.

Across town from San Augustin, shopping mall arcades are packed with children and teenagers from mostly middle-class and wealthy families who wait in line to play "Dark Silhouette" — featuring a life-size assault rifle that players use to gun down opponents.

"Video games aren't the problem, criminals are the problem. Why don't they go after them?" asked Arny Gonzalez, a 17-year-old high school student.

Lawmaker Jose Albornoz concedes that fighting crime requires a multifaceted approach. But he's convinced that authorities can reduce the murder rate by breaking what he says is a direct link between video games and crime — though most studies find no evidence that such games prompt violent behavior in youngsters.

"Some believe they actually can serve as a substitute, kids get rid of their rage through the game instead of acting out," said criminologist Roberto Briceno, who tracks crime at the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an academic think-tank in Caracas.

When the legislation first went to the floor in the predominantly pro-Chavez legislature, lawmakers watched images from the popular "Grand Theft Auto" game showing a man pulling people out of their cars and severely beating them before stealing the vehicles.

"That's what our children are learning from these games, and it cannot continue," Albornoz said from the podium, waving a plastic toy machine gun for emphasis.

Venezuela would be one of few countries to impose an all-out ban on the "manufacture, importation, distribution, sales and use of violent video games and bellicose toys." The proposed law would give Venezuela's consumer protection agency the discretion to define what products should be prohibited and impose fines as high as $128,000.

Similar concerns have prompted many countries, including Brazil, Germany and China, to prohibit the sale of specific video games. Most, including the United States, have opted for ratings systems to warn parents and users of violent or sexual content.

The Venezuelan bill would mandate crime prevention classes in public schools and force the media to "implement permanent campaigns" to warn against the dangers of violent games. Another provision requires the government "to promote the production, distribution, sales and use" of games that teach kids "respect for an adversary."

Some 2,000 people marched across Venezuela's capital Saturday to protest what they call widespread persecution of Chavez's opponents.

"It's a bit ironic that supporters of Chavez, who persecutes his political opponents, want to teach our children the need for respect," quipped Tomas Sanchez, an opposition lawmaker who broke ranks with Chavez.

The law could shutter some retailers, arcades and Internet cafes. But the country's thriving market for pirated video games will likely be untouched by the law — another irony pinpointed by Chavez critics. Most vendors of pirated goods are from the working class, Chavez's core constituency, and they ply their illegal yet tolerated trade on street corners in cities and towns across the country.

Albornoz said such vendors should start thinking about exchanging the likes of "Grand Theft Auto" for non-aggressive games, saying: "There are alternatives that can be just as fun."

At the same time, the understaffed consumer-protection agency would be hard pressed to effectively enforce the ban. Its 163 inspectors spend most of their time struggling to ensure that grocery stores don't flout food price controls aimed at stemming another huge Venezuelan problem — double-digit inflation.

"It's a facade that allows them to say they are doing something to lower the crime rate," Sanchez said, "while hiding the fact that existing policies have failed."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

FIFA launches soccer World Cup for virtual players

LONDON (Reuters) -

Soccer's global governing body FIFA, gaming software-maker Electronic Arts and Sony Corp's PlayStation announced the start of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2010 (FIWC10) season on Tuesday.

The sixth edition of the world's largest football gaming tournament allows virtual athletes the unique opportunity of competing in an official FIFA World Cup, FIFA said in a statement.

The champion will be decided at the final in Barcelona, Spain on May 1, 2010, for which players can qualify online or at live qualifier events.

The winner will receive $20,000 and "a money can't buy" experience of attending the FIFA World Player Gala, where he or she will mingle with the best football players in the world.

"More than half a million players vied for a spot in the Grand Final of last year's FIFA Interactive World Cup," said Chuck Blazer, a member of the FIFA Executive Committee.

"This makes it the FIFA tournament with the most competitors."

Over the next seven months, players will compete against each other online or at one of the 10 live qualifier events that will be held in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa and Britain.

For the first time, the online qualification will be split into two separate seasons, the first running from October 2 through to December 18 2009, and the second from January 4 to March 31, 2010.

Players interested in participating in either the online qualifiers or one of the live qualifier events will find all information on how to register as well as reports and stories around the tournament on the official website,

The 31 players to successfully qualify for the grand final will come up against last year's FIWC champion -- Bruce Grannec from France -- who has automatically qualified for the final and will be aiming to become the first player to retain his title.

(Reporting by Paul Casciato, editing by Steve Addison)

Monday, October 5, 2009

T-Mobile Will Offer Android-Powered Samsung Behold II

T-Mobile USA is prepping Samsung's new Behold II smartphone for an exclusive launch in advance of this year's holiday shopping season. The touchscreen-enabled 3G handset based on Google's Android platform will provide users with direct access to Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube videos, and Google Talk as well as thousands of applications and games from the Android Market, T-Mobile said.

The Samsung Behold II will sport a 3.2-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display featuring the latest active-matrix technology and a five-megapixel camera that doubles as a camcorder. "The premium screen and quality camera coupled with Samsung's innovative cube menu makes the Behold II a multimedia powerhouse that's made even stronger by T-Mobile's high-speed 3G network," said T-Mobile USA Product Marketing Director Travis Warren.

TouchWiz User Interface

The Behold II is part of Samsung's strategy to maintain its second-quarter position as the number-one phone provider in the U.S. Strategy Analytics said Apple's iPhone was "a wake-up call" for manufacturers "to increase their focus on the user experience."

"All cell-phone makers still face several challenges to implementing this focus on user experience, including implementing cohesive internal processes to design and develop a holistic experience," said Strategy Analytics Vice President Kevin Nolan.

The Behold II's TouchWiz user interface is an offshoot of the Croix software that the handset maker initially developed in response to Apple's iPhone interface. With TouchWiz, the goal is "to provide our consumers with a more rewarding and engaging user interface; one that's more fun, easier to use, and more personal," said Geesung Choi, president of Samsung's telecommunication business.

TouchWiz features expanded options in a cube-menu format, including a widget system that enables users to customize and personalize their phones. The unique widgets menu displays functions such as the clock, radio player, and music player. It also integrates more personal elements such as photos and even birthday reminders, which users can "drag and drop" onto their home screens, the company said.

Low-Power Display

The Samsung Behold II has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS radios, and up to 16GB of external memory. Also on tap is a built-in MP3 player.

The Behold II represents the first smartphone from T-Mobile USA to sport an OLED display with active-matrix technology, which provides crisper colors and wider viewing angles. The main advantage offered by the active-matrix method is that the display consumes significantly less power -- and prolongs battery life.

On the software side, the Behold II offers support for text, picture and video messaging; personal e-mail; and corporate e-mail accounts with Exchange ActiveSync. Moreover, the handset's visual voice mail capabilities enable users to listen to voice mails in the order of preference, the company said.

T-Mobile USA announced last week that it is in the process of delivering an over-the-air software update to Android-powered G1 and myTouch handsets on its network. The new Android 1.6 "Donut" upgrade includes a new integrated camera, camcorder and gallery interface; updated voice search, with faster response and deeper integration with native applications; and an improved search experience that is accessible directly from the home screen, the wireless carrier said.