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A win for Samsung

Well, at least for now. The Samsung Galaxy 3 beat out Apple’s iPhone 4S as the country’s best-selling phone in August. That’s the first time Apple has been beat out of the top spot since the release of the 4S, which came out about a year ago. Now, what could possibly be a contributing factor? How about that Apple is widely expected to announce the next iteration of the iPhone next week? CNET notes:

While the iPhone 4S sales weakened, the Galaxy S3 numbers continue to look strong, further solidifying Samsung's position as the world's largest smartphone vendor and top Android partner.


Have you ever been swimming in the ocean and tried avoid waves crashing on you? The trick to not getting sucked under and tumbled around is to take a deep breath and dive into the base of a wave. Right about now, I’d say we’re standing waist-deep in an ocean of smartphones. And that giant wave on the horizon? That’s the onslaught of phones arriving just in time for the holidays. Now take a deep breath and dive.


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Sep 5, 2012

If you’re using BitTorrent to download movies and music and whatever, don’t befriend Rockwell

Rockwell has enough people watching him and sends his regards. According to a recent study, almost all downloads from BitTorrent sites are being monitored, some within just a few hours of making a connection. A team from Birmingham University in the U.K. ran the numbers. The BBC writes:

The three-year research was carried out by a team of computer scientists who developed software that acted like a BitTorrent file-sharing client and logged all the connections made to it.
BitTorrent is a method of obtaining files by downloading from many users at the same time.
The logs revealed that monitoring did not distinguish between hardcore illegal downloaders and those new to it.


A group of roughly 10 companies kept popping up as monitors, a few of which were affiliated with copyright infringement. So that makes sense, but the others? They were unknown firms - PacMen and Ms. PacMen, if you will - gobbling up the pellets and power pellets of data you scatter when uploading or downloading content via BitTorrent. They’re hoping that someday they can cash in (gobble up a blue ghost) on all the information getting scooped up in their nets. But you’re safe, for now. Lead researcher Dr. Tim Chothia spoke with the BBC:

"All the monitors observed during the study would connect to file-sharers and verify that they were running the BitTorrent software, but they would not actually collect any of the files being shared," he said.
"It is questionable whether the monitors observed would actually have evidence of file-sharing that would stand up in court," he added.


So you probably won’t go to jail for that “free” copy of an iPhone-ripped version of Dark Knight Rises, but really, was being the first to own a shaky, sometimes out of focus version of the latest Batman movie worth giving up your digital bits?


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Sep 5, 2012

Radio Shack, bless their hearts, gets into wireless

I was in rural Wisconsin last week and along the highway, miles from any other buildings, I saw a used car lot. “Does anyone ever go there?” I wondered. “How do they stay in business?” That’s kind of how I feel about perennial mall resident Radio Shack, which must peer down the mall to the Apple store wistfully.
But! The Willy Loman of electronics retailing has another way to get back in the game. Yesterday it announced a new mobile phone service called RadioShack No Contract Wireless that uses Leap Wireless International’s Cricket network. Never heard of Leap? Well, yeah, it’s hoping that it’s deal with Radio Shack solves that. You heard that correctly: Leap is hoping Radio Shack is its big name salvation.
From the Wall Street Journal:

With the latest deal, the San Diego company gains space in RadioShack's more than 4,400 U.S. stores, instantly giving its network a broader retail presence. RadioShack also operates about 1,500 kiosks at Target Corp. stores, in addition to roughly 1,000 outlets run by dealers and other partners.


Two new phones from China’s Huawei Technologies go on sale at Radio Shack today. Still on sale at Radio Shack: weird remote control cars that don’t quite work. 


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Sep 5, 2012

Angry Birds sequel to offer the kidnapping pigs’ point of view

I’ll be honest, the whole Angry Birds empire makes me kind of annoyed. It’s a neat game, I guess. There are plenty of games that are more fun, in my opinion. And the message of it is pretty disturbing really: you make birds commit suicide in order to destroy pigs who have kidnapped baby birds. EVERYONE DIES except the baby birds and somehow this is all OKAY WITH EVERYBODY. In fact, it’s SO okay that I see people wearing Angry Birds apparel all over the place like a bunch of monsters.
It’s one of the most popular games of all time and the first game to make the leap from popular app to popular culture itself.
The news today is that a new version is on the way and it’s called Bad Piggies. Launches September 27th.
This was in USA Today:

The studio is promising a very different approach to gameplay compared with Angry Birds, which has players flinging powered-up birds with a slingshot at well-guarded pigs.
"We've had a lot of fun creating a totally new and unique gameplay experience," said Petri Järvilehto, Rovio's executive vice president of games, in a statement. "There's so much more to these pigs than what is seen in the Angry Birds games, and Bad Piggies is the first glimpse into what's going on in the imaginative and ingenious minds of the pigs."

Imaginative and ingenious minds of kidnappers who get killed, you mean. Petri.


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Sep 5, 2012

Voice Mail is dying

Alert observers of technology may have picked up on the fact that there are now a million zillion squillion ways to get in touch with other people. Instant messaging, texting, all sorts of other ways. And Voice Mail, I’ll capitalize it to make it a proper noun so you’ll feel more empathy, is being left out of the shuffle.

From USA Today:

In data prepared for USA TODAY, Vonage, an Internet phone company, says the number of voice-mail messages left on user accounts was down 8% in July from a year ago.
Checking one's voice mail seems to be considered an even a bigger chore than leaving a voice message. Retrieved voice mail fell 14% among Vonage users in the same period.

I love the disparity in those numbers. It means there are all these orphaned messages that are never being checked at all. Also USA Today can’t decide on hyphens.

Among the reasons people didn’t like Voice Mail was the long set of instructions people leave about leaving your message after the tone and what information to include on your message AS IF WE HAVEN’T BEEN LEAVING RECORDED PHONE MESSAGES FOR DECADES.

Anyway, thanks for your service, Voice Mail.


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Sep 4, 2012

Wal-Mart tests Scan & Go

From the depths of a Wal-Mart in Rogers, Ark. comes another Scan & Go, Wal-Mart’s plan to speed you through its stores using that little computer you carry around in your pocket. The company is testing an iPhone scanning system that would let customers scan items while they shop. You’d still have to stop off at a cash register to pay for your goods, but Wal-Mart says this newly proposed method of shopping could save $12 million a second, which only makes me think: Wow - Wal-Mart makes a lot of damn money!

From the Wall Street Journal:

The trial comes after Wal-Mart's chief financial officer, Charles Holley, announced plans in March to add more self-checkout lanes, where shoppers scan and bag items without the help of cashiers. About 1,600 of the more than 4,500 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in the U.S. include a traditional self-checkout option.

The experiment seems to be aimed more at speeding up lines and probably gaining access and insight into customer shopping habits rather than a move on the mobile payment chess board. The company recently announced it was joining other retail giants like Target and Lowe’s in a separate mobile app ecosystem called Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX).


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Sep 4, 2012

Looking for a job? You need to pass the robot test first.

A few weeks back, Eric Auld wanted to see how many people he was competing with for jobs he saw posted on Craigslist. After creating a fake ad, it turns out the answer is A LOT - 653 resumes in just 24 hours. Lots of responders used cut and paste methods and generic resumes that would have been flagged had Auld been a robot. “First looks” are becoming increasingly more digital as the BBC reports on the new digital trends companies are employing to, uh... employ you. The Chemistry Group customizes a kind of role playing game for companies and their applicants. The game might start out mundane, with the user (applicant) enjoying a day in the park, but then distractions set in. A bird circles. Emails pop up. And maybe somebody else starts to ask you questions. The game is set up to judge your multi-tasking skills.

From the BBC:

It is just one of a new breed of software that reflects the growing impact of the digital age on the recruitment sector.
Another programme, created by talent management firm SHL, features online 3D simulations, which drop graduate applicants into scenarios where a boss with a piercing stare asks for solutions to various dilemmas.

And don’t forget the keywords. For years, companies have been employing software that searches resumes for keywords that relate to specific jobs. It’s such a common practice, in fact, that people try to game the system.

Again from the BBC:

As flexible working and virtual teams become more prevalent, so does the opportunity to pull the wool over an electronic recruiter's eyes.


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Sep 4, 2012

There are about 40 people guiding your next Netflix choice

According to Netflix, as of this morning, my reviewer user ranking is No. 886, 927. Woo-hoo, cracked a million! Of the 1,287 movies to which I’ve designated a rating, I have reviewed zero. That’s quite a different story for the roughly 40 freelancers Netflix pays to balance out its algorithm. This relatively small group gets paid to tag, rate, and review movies that, in turn, tell you what to watch.

The Los Angeles Times writes:

The taggers were hired for their love of entertainment and their ability to evaluate it quickly. Many are film school graduates who once worked in Hollywood — or dream of doing so.
They're the ones who pick from more than 1,000 tags to describe thousands of movies and television series offered by Netflix to viewers in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Great Britain and Ireland. Every movie is watched by a single person, as are at least three episodes of every TV series.
Taggers are paid several hundred dollars per week — pocket change for a company that generated $1.76 billion of revenue in the first six months of this year — to watch between 10 to 20 hours of content.

Netflix won’t release the exact number of streams available, but estimates put it at around 14,000. In other words, way too many for the average viewer to sift through before s/he finds something better to do and cancels their Netflix subscription. The company estimates that around 75 percent of what we watch on the service is based on recommendations, which is why it’s coming up with more and more ways of slicing and dicing tags. In the last six years the number of tags, which used to be completely computer generated, has grown from a couple hundred to over 1000 with the help of the human touch.


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Sep 4, 2012

Amazon gaining fast on Netflix with Epix deal

Don’t look in your rearview mirror, Netflix. It would only freak you out how quickly Amazon is gaining on you. Amazon has announced a deal with Epix, a film distributor, that will bring a bunch of new titles to the company’s Prime Instant Video service. Amazon viewers will soon be able to catch “The Hunger Games”, “Thor”, and “Super 8” on Amazon’s service, which costs $79 a year. Netflix had an exclusive deal with Epix but that expired last month, so while you’ll still be able to see the titles on Netflix, it won’t be the only place you can see them. Amazon’s catalog is still smaller than Netflix’s but the gap is closing and Amazon has certainly emerged as one of the top three streaming services, along with Netflix and Hulu Plus.

What will be interesting to watch here is what else Amazon does with Prime. Right now, you get free two-day shipping, a Kindle book per month to borrow, and the video streaming. How else can Amazon combine those and other deals? What else can Amazon offer license holders to sweeten the pot in striking deals?


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Sep 4, 2012

Democrats to stream convention

A lot of things USED to be true about political conventions. Candidates used to be decided there, disagreements were aired, actual news sometimes occurred. Not so much anymore as conventions have become protracted infomercials for the presidential candidates and the TV networks have pulled way back on coverage.

But there’s always the internet! The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte will be livestreamed this year with gavel-to-gavel coverage of every breathtaking minute of some politician you’ve never heard of saying the other guys are creeps.

The Republicans livestreamed their convention as well and as of yet we have not seen a lot of stats for things like total clicks, length of visit, stuff like that. One imagines that the Democrats have a more web-savvy constituency but it would be interesting to see some side-by-side web stats on the two conventions. We also know that TV ratings for the RNC were way down over four years ago.


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Sep 4, 2012

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About this collection

"Food for Nine Billion" is a multi-platform media project that examines the challenge of feeding the world at a time of growing demand, changing diets, rising food and energy prices, shrinking land and water resources, and accelerating climate change. It is a collaborative project of Marketplace, Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PBS NewsHour.