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Phone Companies Could Be Overcharging You for Data

Turns out, the phone company could be overcharging you for going online while you're mobile. Researchers at UCLA compared how much data smartphones used while connected to the internet to what the phone company was charging (read their paper here). In areas of lousy coverage, some customers were billed for data that never showed up. Tom Simonite at MIT's Technology Review says one researcher was trying to watch a video on his phone while riding the train...

"And then the train went into a tunnel, he lost the signal, and the video cut out and he didn't get to watch any more of it, but the carrier kept sending data his way. As far as their system could tell, data was being streamed to his device. And so when the bill came in, there was about 7 percent more data on his bill than he had actually been able to use on his device."

According to paper co-author Chunyi Peng, it's an architectural problem--an issue of how carriers measure data--and maybe not a malicious one. But considering how confusing a cell phone bill can be (have you ever looked at all those separate line items?), it's a problem in need of a solution. Especially now that nearly half of us are using the kind of phones that could potentially play video and use other streaming capabilities. 


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Sep 16, 2012

Will Amazon announce a phone today?

Amazon is hosting a big announcement today and for quite a while we’ve been expecting some combination of Kindles and Kindle Fires to be on the launch pad. Late last week, the company said that it was “sold out” of the Kindle Fire, which is a slam dunk indication that the old model, which showed up less than a year ago, is being replaced.

From ABC News:

The next version of the Fire has been rumored to have a faster processor and an updated design. There have also been rumors that Amazon might release a larger 10-inch tablet this week.

The thing to really watch for here is whether Amazon also announces a smartphone at this event, something that The Verge says is very possible:

Multiple sources have confirmed to The Verge that Amazon is working on a smartphone that runs a variant of the Kindle Fire's Android-based operating system, and we're now hearing that the device will be shown to the press tomorrow.

The Verge also reports that Amazon’s new Kindle will feature a “Paperwhite” display - even clearer - and have an 8-week battery life.


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Sep 6, 2012

FCC to test wireless speed

If you ask any salesman at the wireless stores and kiosks at the mall how fast their company’s network is, you’ll likely get some variation on, “Oh, it’s REALLY fast”, which doesn’t ultimately help you all that much. The company’s advertisements aren’t much better, each boasting about speed without providing much in the way of quantification.

The FCC is going to do something about that. The Commission will hold a meeting on September 21st to begin to develop a program for monitoring mobile network speeds. The FCC has been doing that with broadband networks for some time. 

All Things D quotes FCC Chair Julius Genachowski:

“We know from experience: Transparency on broadband speeds drives improvement in broadband speeds. Our new mobile broadband measurement initiative extends the program to smartphones and other wireless devices. It will empower consumers and encourage improvements in mobile networks and programs, benefiting millions of Americans.”

It will be interesting to see if the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world embrace this testing or if they lobby against anything that could put their claims at risk of being defied by reality.


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Sep 6, 2012

Sec. Clinton calls for joint effort on security between U.S. and China

A big day for people named Clinton yesterday. President Bill gave a pretty big speech at the DNC in Charlotte, meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary was in China attempting to forge a rather bold new initiative: cooperation on cybersecurity.

Hillicon Valley quotes her:

"Both the United States and China are victims of cyber attacks. Intellectual property, commercial data, national security information is being targeted," Clinton said in remarks at the press conference. "This is an issue of increasing concern to the business community and the government of the United States, as well as many other countries, and it is vital that we work together to curb this behavior."

There’s a lot going on here, obviously. It’s logical for two superpowers to work together on a big effort. China, however, has been the source of a lot of cyberattacks within the United States and it’s often unclear whether the attacks are coming from private citizens, the Chinese government, or some combinations of the two. Then there’s the fact that China strenuously censors the internet within its borders.

It might also just be a diplomatic charade: two countries playing nice discussing something that will never come to fruition in a meaningful way.


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Sep 6, 2012

This crazy Romney tax return hacker story is crazy

The value of the Internet currency known as Bitcoin rose yesterday for a pretty weird reason. Hackers claim to have obtained the tax records of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney from Pricewaterhouse Cooper and say they will release the records unless the Romney campaign pays them a million dollars in the hard-to-trace Bitcoin currency.

From Venture Beat:

Bitcoins are an electronic currency unregulated by any central authority. Users are self-policed and receive instant payments of Bitcoins through an encrypted process that verifies each transaction and does not allow it to be undone. Bitcoins are difficult to exchange for actual dollars, but are otherwise a very private way of exchanging cash. This makes the currency preferable for those who don’t wish to be identified.

The Secret Service is investigating the claims, which were first posted on Pastebin, a message board site commonly visited by hackers. Pricewaterhouse Cooper is denying the claims, or at least saying that it has seen no evidence of a hack. A lot of the chatter in the hacking world is pretty dubious of the claims as well but we live in a world where anyone can go on some website, say they pulled off a big crazy hack, and it becomes news.


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Sep 6, 2012

Farmville 2 launches but does anyone care? I mean, I do, a little, thus the memo item here, but in a larger sense, you know?

Way back when we started doing Tech Report and dinosaurs roamed the earth and the internet was steam-powered, Zynga was a big success story. This was thanks in large part to Farmville, the hyper-addictive, hyper-social game that had millions of people studiously maintaining farms of pretend crops and make-believe livestock. Then things went South: follow-up games from Zynga didn’t make quite the splash and people realized that the games were pretty stupid (a fact that they could have arguably deduced much earlier in the process.

Now Zynga’s offering up Farmville 2 and there’s a degree of poetic sadness in the scenario being presented.

From the LA Times:

While the harvesting theme remains, there are no coins that come bursting out of every click in "FarmVille 2." The original game's two-dimensional artwork yields to three-dimensional graphics in the second version. Quests in the new game are less about rescuing lonely livestock and more about building an empire out of the wreckage of a neglected family farm.

“See, the farm represents the ruinous state of our company after lots of layoffs and people realizing our games are lousy!” a spokesperson for Zynga didn’t really say.


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Sep 6, 2012

That fancy new Windows 8 phone can sure take great video

Nokia really wants you to believe that headline. It created it’s own video of a fun-loving couple on a bike ride using their new Lumia 920 Lumia phones. Wow, look how smooth that video is... and they’re on bikes too! One problem: the video wasn’t shot using the new phone.

The Verge was first to point out the error:

... there's a curious reflection in the window of the trailer in the background. It's not a young man riding his bicycle alongside the cheerful model, but instead a big white van with a lighting rig and a cameraman standing in the doorway — with what appears to be a large camera rig. Whatever he's holding, we can reasonably agree it's not a Lumia 920.
Owning up to the mistake, Nokia issued an apology for the misleading ad, which reads in part:
In an effort to demonstrate the benefits of optical image stabilization (which eliminates blurry images and improves pictures shot in low light conditions), we produced a video that simulates what we will be able to deliver with OIS.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but we should have posted a disclaimer stating this was a representation of OIS only. This was not shot with a Lumia 920. At least, not yet. We apologize for the confusion we created.

The apology was accompanied by a new, hastily shot video that really does show the new phone’s image stabilization capabilities.


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Sep 6, 2012

By 2050 we may not all be flying into space, but we could be taking off like rockets

According to Airbus, taking off at sharper angles could save a significant amount of fuel, and, as it turns out, the European airplane maker says it could build just such a plane by mid-century. The design would involve a series of wheels fitted to the bottom of the plane that give it more up an upward propulsion and detach just before taking flight. I imagine runways littered with bunches of wheel “carcasses” as if a bunch of  cicadas had just shed their shells. Taking off this way, theoretically, gets planes up to their cruising speed much quicker, which helps them to economize fuel.

Taking off isn’t the only innovation Airbus sees in its jet-fueled future.

A new way of landing could be part of the game too, as the BBC writes:

[Airbus] suggested planes could glide towards airports using a steeper approach than is common at present as an alternative to the use of engine thrust and air brakes.
It said this could slow aircraft at an earlier stage, making shorter landing distances possible.
"As space becomes a premium and mega-cities become a reality, this approach could... minimise land use, as shorter runways could be utilised," it added.

Wait, gliding to a landing “using a steeper approach?” That sounds like stalling out in mid-air. And cities are going to get bigger and more congested, so airports are going to have to take up less of a footprint. I hope these planes come with gigantic parachutes too.


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Sep 6, 2012

Robot style mind-leg harmony

For now, Oscar Pistorious has to compete in the Olympics with running blades, but in a couple generations, runners could be sprinting atop mind-controlled robot legs. Step aside Steve Austin, and take Jammie Sommers with you. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center have successfully tested a pair of such legs. Just think of it. No really, just think of it, because that’s all you need to do to get the legs to respond. And now that the team has figured out how to translate EEG readouts (brainwaves) to bot gams, there’s a whole new realm of possibilities in the field of prosthetics.
Keep in mind, these are still in the early stages of development.

From the Verge:

While future improvements could allow the user to change speed and direction and perform actions such as sitting down and standing up, the current implementation of the system is only capable of alternating between binary "idling" and "walking" states. Another issue is so-called "false alarms," which, as the researchers note, "carry the risk of bodily harm in future BCI-prostheses for overground walking" — four of these occurred during testing, with the device's pre-programmed startup sequence causing them to last at least five seconds each.


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Sep 6, 2012

While the rest of us get to add “wide web,” one in three people live only in the world

OK, let me explain. Tim Berners-Lee, the guy that invented the World Wide Web, has just published a web index that shows, of all the people in the world, only one in three connect to the web. That number grows to one in six, when looking specifically at Africa. The BBC breaks the index down:

It highlighted censorship and high broadband prices as barriers to a "web for all".
Using data from the past five years, it scored nations in seven different categories.
These were: communications infrastructure - the state and availability of web-enabling infrastructure; institutional infrastructure - education, laws, regulation and censorship; web content - what relevant and useful content is available; web use - the extent to which the web is used in a country; political impact; economic impact and social impact.


Overall, the U.S. ranked No. 2 on the index, behind Sweden and in front of the U.K. We’re number two! We’re number two! Iceland, it turns out, is the most connected with 95 percent of its population logging on, while Yemen scraped the bottom “in three categories, including social and economic impact of the web.” Again from the BBC:

According to the index, 30% of countries face moderate to severe government restrictions on access to websites, while about half of them show increasing threats to press freedom. "The web is a global conversation. Growing suppression of free speech, both online and offline, is possibly the single biggest challenge to the future of the web," warned Sir Tim


61 countries were surveyed for the index, and besides location, one of the main barriers to going online is still price. According to Berners-Lee, “broadband connections still cost almost half of monthly income per capita.”


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Sep 5, 2012

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Dignitaries, economists, and business leaders from around the world gather in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Conference. They will discuss free markets and the global economic recovery during the five-day conference.