You don't need the most expensive photography equipment to take awesome photos.
Photographer Alexey Kljatov took an old lens from a Russian Zenit camera, flipped it around backwards, and attached it to a run of the mill point-and-shoot camera.
Then he took macro shots of snowflakes, and the images are absolutely enchanting! Kljatov allowed us to share some of them here.
This is how Kljatov created the camera he used.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
The holidays are here.
And that means going home and visiting the family. And that means opening up the photo album and seeing some blasts from the past.
In honor of that nostalgic feeling, we're taking a look back at our favorite gadgets from the 1990s.
We will always celebrate the 1990s as the time when the World Wide Web really started changing our lives.
Back then, our flannel was loose, our jeans were high-waisted, and our tech gadgets were cool.
Here are some techie gizmos and toys that we miss dearly.
After watching "Home Alone 2," everyone wanted a Talkboy. This little gadget let you record and playback whatever you wanted, plus speed up or slow down recordings to make yourself sound ridiculous.
Check out this old Talkboy commercial.
The Sega Genesis, which came bundled with Sonic the Hedgehog, was technically released in the U.S. in 1988 but didn't start really winning our hearts until the '90s.
It didn't matter that your Sony Discman would skip despite its anti-shock protection, you loved it all the same.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Amazon, eBay and Wal-Mart have achieved something remarkable. With millions of apps and websites competing for attention, each has carved out a mass audience on mobile and have become the top three mobile commerce properties in the U.S.
How have they succeeded? For the three, mobile isn't just a "sales channel," but a thoughtful means of connecting with customers, to draw them in, earn their loyalty, encourage their sharing of useful data, and nudge them toward more lifetime purchases.
In a new BI Intelligence report, we look at the statistics behind eBay and Amazon's transition from PC-based e-commerce to the mobile computing era. Their success wasn't a given. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, is perhaps the biggest surprise mobile retail leader. The company is striving to move faster on mobile than it did in PC-based e-commerce.
Here are some of the most important facts about the Big Three mobile retailers:
- Amazon has more mobile-only users than Facebook in the U.S. These users visit only on mobile and never see the desktop version of the site.
- It's not just Amazon. Mobile-only users account for one-fourth to one-third of the total U.S. digital audience for each of these three retailers.
- Shopping is a preferred mobile activity. eBay's users spend an average 108 minutes a month on its app.
- Mobile commerce offers tremendous reach. A full 15% of the U.S. mobile population accesses Wal-Mart.com on their smartphones.
- What is each of these retail giants doing on mobile? eBay privileges user engagement; Wal-Mart convenience, discounts, and in-store features; while Amazon focuses on optimizing user experience.
- E-commerce players large and small will follow the Big Three's lead in solving mobile challenges, such as the fact that many retail sites still aren't usable across all mobile browsers and operating systems. Also shopping carts don't sync across mobile and desktop, and payment processes are still clunky.
In full, the report:
- Advances the "50-30-40 rule," for mobile commerce properties, which starts with the idea that 50% of the audience should be accessing on mobile.
- Analyzes the threat to e-commerce from "reverse showrooming," which is when customers browse online but shop in physical stores.
- Studies the cases of eBay, Amazon, and Wal-Mart in order to see what they've done on mobile, and why.
- Looks at the use of the mobile Web vs. apps for the Big Three, and how each plays a different role depending on where the consumer is accessing.
- Discusses and compares the "mobile lift," or the incremental mobile audience for the Big Three retailers.
(Reuters) - Americans got their first look on Saturday at an overhaul of the troubled enrollment website at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care law, but it was unclear yet if the White House had made good on its pledge to fix the glitches.
The Obama administration promised five weeks ago that by this weekend it would fix HealthCare.gov, the site designed to help people sign up for medical coverage but which has been plagued by errors, outages, and slow speeds since a disastrous October 1 launch.
Account creation and log-in functions appeared to work smoothly on the site on Saturday, but it was uncertain whether it could handle target traffic loads of 50,000 users at once.
HealthCare.gov is a key portal for Obama's signature domestic achievement, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which aims to extend coverage to millions of people and reduce health care costs.
Making Obamacare work has enormous political stakes for the administration and its Democratic allies who are heading into congressional elections next year.
The administration said on Saturday that 90 percent of website users can now create an account on the system.
"We're on target to meet our stated goal for the site to work for the vast majority of users," said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency responsible for the website.
But some information technology experts said the metric cited by the agency was misleading, noting that a claim of anything below 100 percent success was impossible to verify.
"It prevents anyone from the outside from contradicting them," said Jonathan Wu, co-founder of the consumer financial website ValuePenguin. He said only those working on the website know whether the 90-percent figure is accurate.
And there is little insight on how well the website works beyond the first step, where users choose a password and enter an email address.
Far more difficult to gauge, Wu said, is whether the website is better at verifying identities and calculating government subsidies for those whose income falls below 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
Navigator groups - those tasked with helping people sign up for new medical benefits - had not planned for a busy weekend following the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. Several groups contacted by Reuters said they would not be open, while others described a trickle of would-be applicants on Saturday.
In McAllen, Texas, the group MHP (Migrant Health Promotion) found that the website - while improved - still has glitches, particularly at the later stages of the process where subsidies are calculated, according to Rachel Udow, who oversees the program.
"That was a barrier to paying the first month's premium," she said, explaining that insurance carriers could not determine how much to charge the customer's credit card. "The problem came right at the point of paying."
The Obama administration hopes eventually to enroll about 7 million uninsured and under-insured people in 2014 under the new law, with many of those consumers expected to qualify for subsidies.
To work, the program must draw millions of young, healthy consumers whose participation in the new insurance exchanges is key to keeping costs in check.
If the website does not work for the "vast majority" of visitors this weekend as the administration has promised, uninsured Americans could face problems getting coverage by an initial December 23 deadline.
It also could create ripples that extend to the 2014 elections when control of the U.S. House of Representatives, now dominated by Republicans, and the Senate, where Democrats have a majority, will be up for grabs.
Congressional Democrats facing re-election already have shown signs of distancing themselves from the president and his health care program. If the website does not show significant improvement soon, some Democrats might call for extending Obamacare's final March 31 enrollment deadline for 2014.
That would delay the fines that are mandated by the law for those who do not have insurance by that date, a scenario that insurers say would destabilize the market. It also would fuel Republicans' arguments that Obamacare is fatally flawed and should be scrapped.
With Republican lawmakers busy in their districts on the holiday weekend, political reaction on Saturday was muted.
Obama's approval ratings have plunged with the site's problems and after his admission that he overreached in promising that everyone who liked their health care plan would be able to keep it under the new law.
"It is a lot harder to reboot public trust than it is to reboot software," said David Brailer, chief executive of the Health Evolution Partners private equity firm and a health official in former President George W. Bush's administration.
On Friday evening, ahead of the self-imposed Saturday deadline to get the insurance shopping website working for the "vast majority" of users, CMS announced it was taking it down for an unusually long 11-hour maintenance period.
CMS is slated to take the site down again between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. EST (0600-1100 GMT) on Sunday to perform more upgrades, and Jeffrey Zients, the Obama aide tasked with leading the rescue mission, was set to brief reporters on the site's progress at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) on Sunday.
Officials have been careful to say that the overhauled site won't work for everyone and could still be overwhelmed by traffic at times.
"There will be moments, most likely in the middle of the day, where demand will be greater than that capacity," Zients told reporters earlier this week.
His tech team created a new "queueing" feature that, in peak periods, will suggest a better time to return to the site. The administration has also directed users to visit it during off-peak hours in the morning, evening and weekend.
(Editing by David Lindsey, Michele Gershberg and Paul Simao)
Christopher "Biz" Stone is a minor celebrity thanks largely to a bold decision he made in the very early days of Twitter's founding.
When Twitter was starting to take shape, Stone emailed Ev Williams, who was bankrolling Twitter, and asked, "Maybe this is inappropriate, but if I don't ask, I'll never know! What do you envision my title to be? Is there a chance I could be called co-founder?"
Williams wrote back, "I don't know the answer to this yet. It is not an unreasonable request."
These emails were reported by Nick Bilton in "Hatching Twitter," a book on the founding of Twitter.
In the months that followed, Stone kept lobbying Williams for the title of co-founder. Williams was worried that if he gave Stone a big title, some of the other early Twitter employees would lobby for equally big titles for themselves.
When it came time to formalize the roles and titles at Twitter, Williams granted Stone his wish. He made Biz a co-founder.
Stone certainly earned a right to claim the co-founder title. He was one of the early people working on Twitter, when it was a side project inside Odeo, a podcasting startup.
But, Stone wasn't the inventor of Twitter. He was just an employee who happened to be at Odeo and worked on some early designs of the product. It wasn't a slam-dunk that he should be given co-founder credit.
To underscore how Stone's title sounded bigger than it really was, Bilton reports equity in the company was split with Williams getting 70%, Jack Dorsey, who was CEO and co-founder getting 20%, and Stone, as co-founder getting 3% of the company. That was the same amount as Jason Goldman, who was an early employee working along side those guys. (The rest of the equity went to other early employees.)
Stone's co-founder title didn't get him a ton of equity, but it did afford him the ability to say he was co-founder of Twitter. That became priceless later on when Twitter became a smashing success.
But even before Twitter was a success, the title of co-founder had big benefits. Co-founder is a non-specific title. It's not like Stone was CTO, or COO, or President. As co-founder, he was free to bounce around from role to role within the company, retaining respect and power without having a clearly defined responsibility.
This is an important lesson for anyone working in the early stages of company. It doesn't hurt to ask for a big title, even co-founder status, because you never know what you're going to get and how it could play out in the long run.
Jony Ive wasn't always Jony Ive, Apple design God.
At one point, he was just a young British designer trying to get by.
However, Ive was a precocious design talent, and from a young age, he was racking up awards for his design work.
Leander Kahney's new book, JONY IVE, The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products, sheds new light on some of Ive's earliest works. We got permission from the book's publisher to run photos of some of that work.
While Apple products today have a certain look and feel to them, Ive's early work doesn't really have a signature to it.
This was intentional.
Kahney highlighted this quote from Paul Kunkel in a book about Apple design: "Unlike most of his generation, Ive did not see design as an occasion to exert his ego or carry out some pres ordained style or theory. Rather, he approached each project in an almost chameleon-like way, adapting himself to the product (rather than the other way around) ... for this reason, Ive's early works have no 'signature style.'"
That said, the works turned heads. They were so good that Apple's design leader Bob Brunner spent years recruiting Ive. Eventually he landed Ive, and the rest is history.
Here's a look at the early work, and the evolution of Ive's style.
This is a sketch of concept for an electric pen that could write in different widths and patterns.
Ive made this as an intern. It is the TX2 pen, and its big feature is a ball and clip at the top designed for people to fiddle around with. Ive realized people like to fiddle with their pens, so he encouraged it in the design.
Ive won an award in the 80s for this futuristic design of the landline phone, which he called the "Orator." He won money from the British government to travel abroad as a result of this design.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Jony Ive and his products feature heavily in our day-to-day lives, but how much do you know about the man himself? Leander Kahney, author of a new biography of Apple's design chief, offers five little-known facts
1. Jony Ive is Dyslexic
Even so, he got three straight As at A-level, good enough to get him into Oxford or Cambridge. Instead he went to Newcastle Polytechnic, one of the best places to study industrial design in the world.
Later, Ive teamed up with another famous dyslexic: Steve Jobs.
Dyslexia is common among many creative innovators, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison and Steven Spielberg. In fact, it correlates so frequently with high creativity, it’s been called “the gift of dyslexia” and the “affliction of geniuses.”
2. Ive has a lifelong passion for cars
He drove his first car, an orange Fiat 500, to school in the early 1980s. At the time, Ive had spiky gothic hair; the sunroof had to be opened to accommodate it.
Since then, Ive has restored an Austin-Healy “Frogeye” Sprite with his father, and purchased Aston Martins, Bentleys and Land Rovers.
3. He had a near fatal car accident just as Apple was taking off
Ive wrecked his Aston Martin DB9, a $250,000 James Bond super car, just outside San Francisco. He was lucky to survive, according to colleagues.
It made Apple sit up and worry what would happen if they lost him. He got a big pay jump and a lump of stock options. Aston Martin replaced the car, but the replacement burst into flames in his driveway and might have started a house fire. So he got a Bentley.
4. He’s obsessed with making you touch things
It’s fitting that the man behind the iPhone and iPad – the ultimate tactile electronic gizmos – started his design career by adding a “fiddle factor” to his products.
All Ive's early products were marked by little thoughtful touches that made owners want to fiddle with them. An early tablet for Apple, for example (the Newton MessagePad), had a telescoping pop-out pen that users loved to fiddle with. He even added handles to his computers to encourage users to touch them.
5. He heads a design team that hasn’t much changed since the mid 1990s
Apple’s design team was pretty much in place before Steve Jobs returned to the company, and is still there today. It consists of about 20 designers who work in an ultra-secure studio on Apple’s campus in Cupertino, California.
Most of the designers live in San Francisco and enjoy great perks and benefits. As well as being better paid than many of their design contemporaries, a lot of them are sitting on shares that were granted when Apple stock was in the tank.
In addition, the designers call the shots at Apple: they’re the brains behind Apple’s little innovation factory.
Jony Ive, the Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products by Leander Kahney (Portfolio Penguin, £14.99) is published on November 28th
Over the summer, my wife and I bought a house.
When it started to get cold here in the Northeast, we decided to get a Nest thermostat.
Nest is a company co-founded by Tony Fadell, who built the original iPod. Fadell is CEO, and his mission to improve the "unloved" products in our homes, like the thermostat. Recently, Nest launched the Nest Protect, a smoke detector.
The Nest thermostat is an Internet connected device that learns your habits and adjusts automatically after figuring out when you're home and when you're away. It also has a smartphone app that can control the thermostat remotely.
Prior to installing the Nest, we just had a normal thermostat that was entirely manual. It did its job, but we had to always remember to adjust the temperature. One weekend, we left the house and forgot to turn down the heat, so we were burning money. Other times, we would be in the house, turn down the heat before going to bed, but would wake up freezing.
After a week or so in the cold weather, we decided to get a Nest. I didn't do much research into rival thermostats. I had heard good things about the Nest. I liked the company and the CEO, so I decided to dive in.
The Nest is $250, which makes it more expensive than any similar thermostat we've seen on Amazon.
I think it's worth the money because it's easy to use, it works brilliantly with my phone, and it should save me money this winter.
Here's a run down of my experience with Nest after two weeks.
Installation was a snap. If you're worried about installing a Nest, you shouldn't be. I just took off my thermostat's face plate, and snapped a photo of the wires underneath.
On Nest's website, a few check boxes made sure my house was compatible with the thermostat. After I bought the thermostat, I just screwed in a base plate, snapped in the next piece then reconnected the wires. From there, I had to punch in my WiFi password, then Nest did a software update and I was pretty much good to go.
Except, I wasn't! I mis-connected one of the wires. I had the Rh mixed up with the Rc, or something like that. Nest's website very quickly helped me figure out the mistake, and I was all set.
It took about a week for the Nest to figure out our schedule. For the first week, we were controlling the Nest either manually, or through the Nest app. Then, after a week, the thermostat decided to take over.
The problem with Nest's automated system is that we don't have a truly routine schedule. Some nights we're home from work at 7 PM. Other nights we don't come back, we go out with friends. On the weekends, it's a total crap shoot. We've been out of the house a lot on the weekends, so the Nest has no clue about what to do.
The good thing, though, is that the Nest's smartphone app lets us control the thermostat. I love, love, love the ability to control the thermostat from my phone. During the first week, we would turn on the Nest on the train on the way home, so it was warmed up when we got home. Or, I could wake up, grab my phone and turn up the heat.
That said, the app still needs a little bit of fine tuning. You can set up a schedule for the thermostat through the app, but it's not the best experience. I'd like to see it work more like a calendar app, maybe. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but there's something ever so slightly off about it. Overall, I think the app and the scheduling are gold, but they could use some refinement.
Bottom line: I'm thrilled with the Nest and would recommend it to just about anyone.
In 2001, Apple started making all of its products white.
This happened even though Steve Jobs was not a fan of the idea.
"Initially, Jobs's instincts were against white products," says Leander Kahney in his new book, "Jony Ive, The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products."
Jony Ive, Apple's design leader was in favor of white products. Since his school days, he'd been building products out of white plastic.
He started making Apple's products white partially in reaction to the colorful phase Apple went through with the translucent plastic iMac.
Apple shocked the world, and changed everything, when it released the first iMac in Bondi Blue. It followed up with a bunch of different colored iMacs.
Apple made the iBook in white plastic. Ive wanted to continue that with the iPod.
"Right from the very first time, we were thinking about the product, we'd see [the iPod] as stainless steel and white. It's just so ... brutally simple. It's not a color. Supposedly neutral — but just an unmistakable, shocking neutral," said Ive about the iPod.
When Apple's designers were presenting products to Jobs he reflexively disliked white initially. So, Apple's designers tried to come up with colors that were close to white without being white to make him happy.
The designers came up with cloud white, snow white, glacial white, and moon gray, which looked like it was white, but was really gray. Jobs liked the moon gray, and approved it for a keyboard, says Kahney.
Moon gray also ended up being used in the cords on iPod ear phones, even though most people called the cords white.
"Moon gray and seashell gray were shades developed by us at Apple that were so close to white as to appear almost white but were in fact gray," says Doug Satzger, who worked in the Apple design group.
A new iPhone app called Jetpac City Guides will appear in the iPhone store on December 5. It tells you all about the best places in every city to hit, based on analyzing millions of Instagram photos.
We've been playing with a preview of it and really like it.
It uses some pretty cool big data technology to look at the photos, understand what's going on in them (are people smiling? what are they wearing?) and match them to their GPS locations.
From that, the app tells you, city by city things like:
- The bars women love (based on how many photos of smiling women taken there).
- Where foodies eat and drink
- The best coffee shops
- Where music lovers hang out
- Hikes tourists don't know about
- Restaurants with the best views
- Dog-friendly places
- Best places for kids
- And (one of our favorites), hipster hangouts, based on pictures of guys dressed hipster style or sporting hipster mustaches.
For instance, from the app we learned that ...
The No. 1 bar that women love in San Francisco is Ace Wasabi's Rock-N-Roll Sushi.
The top restaurant where people take photos of their food in Manhattan is the Terakawa Ramen noodle house.
The favorite hangout for hipsters in Denver is a breakfast spot called Snooze.
Here's a wrinkle in the story of Android taking over the world.
Both IBM and Adobe are reporting that Apple's iOS, which powers iPhones and iPads, is destroying Google's Android in mobile shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
IBM says it tracked "millions of transactions and terabytes of data from approximately 800 U.S. retail websites" on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
It broke out an analysis of iOS and Android:
On average, iOS users spent $127.92 per order on Black Friday compared to $105.20 per order for Android users. iOS traffic reached 28.2 percent of all online traffic, compared to 11.4 percent for Android. iOS sales reached 18.1 percent of all online sales, compared to 3.5 percent for Android.
This is astounding when you consider that comScore says Android has ~52% of the smartphone market, and iOS has ~42% of the market in the U.S..
Adobe also has an analytics tool. It tracked "400 million visits to more than 2,000 U.S. retailers’ websites on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday."
Here's Adobe on iOS versus Android:
iOS-based devices drove more than $543 million dollars in online sales, with iPad taking a 77 percent share. Android-based devices were responsible for $148 million in online sales, a 4.9 percent share of mobile driven online sales.
...iPads drove the vast majority of online sales with $417 million while iPhones were responsible for $126 million. In comparison, Android-based phones generated $106 million, Android-based tablets $42 million in online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
These are both measured in the U.S., which is a unique market for iOS. However, this is still a jaw-dropping gap in usage between the two platforms. It suggests that the focus on smartphone market share misses a bigger picture about how the platforms are actually used.
The Stuxnet virus that ravaged Iran's Natanz nuclear facility "was far more dangerous than the cyberweapon that is now lodged in the public's imagination," cyber security expert Ralph Langer writes in Foreign Policy.
But the exploit had a previous element that was much more complicated and "changed global military strategy in the 21st century," according to Langer.
The lesser-known initial attack was designed to secretly "draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant" to understand how the computers control the centrifuges used to enrich uranium, Peter Sanger of The New York Times reported last June.
Langer adds that the worm — which was delivered into Natanz through a worker's thumb drive — also subtly increased the pressure on spinning centrifuges while showing the control room that everything appeared normal by replaying recordings of the plant's protection system values while the attack occurred.
The intended effect was not destroying centrifuges, but "reducing lifetime of Iran's centrifuges and making the Iranians' fancy control systems appear beyond their understanding," Langer writes.
He notes that the coding was "so far-out, it leads one to wonder whether its creators might have been on drugs." (The worm was reportedly tested at Israel's Dimona nuclear facility.)
Only after years of undetected infiltration did the U.S. and Israel unleash the second variation to attack the centrifuges themselves and self-replicate to all sorts of computers.
And the first version of Stuxnet was only detected with the knowledge of the second.
So while the second Stuxnet is considered the first cyber act of force, the new details reveal that the impact of the first virus will be much greater. That's because the initial attack "provided a useful blueprint to future attackers by highlighting the royal road to infiltration of hard targets": humans working as contractors.
The sober reality is that at a global scale, pretty much every single industrial or military facility that uses industrial control systems at some scale is dependent on its network of contractors, many of which are very good at narrowly defined engineering tasks, but lousy at cybersecurity.
Or as one of the architects of the Stuxnet plan told Sanger: “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand.”
Given that the next attackers may not be nation-states, they may be much more likely to go after civilian critical infrastructure. Langer notes that most modern plants operate with a standardized industrial control system, so "if you get control of one industrial control system, you can infiltrate dozens or even hundreds of the same breed more."
China claims victory in scrubbing rumors from Internet; critics say speech has been curtailed
BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese government has declared victory in cleaning up what it considers rumors, negativity and unruliness from online discourse, while critics say the moves have suppressed criticism of the government and ruling Communist Party.
Beijing launched the campaign this summer, arresting dozens of people for spreading rumors, creating new penalties for people who post libelous information and calling in the country's top bloggers for talks urging them to guard the national interest and uphold social order. At the same time, government agencies at all levels have boosted their online presence to control the message in cyberspace.
"If we should describe the online environment in the past as good mingling with the bad, the sky of the cyberspace has cleared up now because we have cracked down on online rumors," Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the State Internet Information Office, said during a rare meeting this week with foreign journalists.
A study by an Internet opinion monitoring service under the party-owned People's Daily newspaper showed the number of posts by a sample of 100 opinion leaders declined by nearly 25 percent and were overtaken by posts from government microblog accounts.
"The positive force on the Internet has preliminarily taken back the microphone, and the positive energy has overwhelmed the negative energy to uphold the online justice," said Zhu Huaxin, the monitoring service's general secretary, according to a transcript posted by state media.
Observers say the crackdown has noticeably curtailed speech by suppressing voices and triggering self-censorship, with more liberal online voices being more ginger in their criticism and posting significantly less.
Even Zhu suggested the campaign might have gone too far. In one example, Web users refrained from reposting information and commenting on the government response to a severe flood in the eastern city of Yuyao in early October. A year ago, they were garrulous in questioning Beijing's drainage system when a rainstorm ravaged the city. "It is a reminder that we must strike a balance between crushing online rumors and ensuring information flow," Zhu said.
Some critics say the moves may backfire by eliminating an effective conduit for the public to let off steam.
"If there's no channel for the public to express themselves, they may take to the street," said historian and political analyst Zhang Lifan, whose online accounts were recently removed without warning — possibly because he had shared historic facts that the party did not find flattering.
"The governments also can take pulse of the public opinion, but if no one speaks up, they will be in darkness," Zhang said. "It is so odd they are covering up their eyes and blocking their ears."
The rise of the Internet in China has always been followed by Beijing's efforts to rein it in, and the latest challenge has been the explosive growth in social media, particularly microblogging, which has allowed users to share firsthand accounts and opinions with great speed. Advocates of free speech have applauded the technology as a strong boost to their cause.
As of June this year, China's microblogging services had more than 330 million users, and WeChat, a mobile phone-based instant messaging service that allows users to share information with circles of friends or subscribers, had more than 300 million users, Ren said.
"The unexpected growth has caught people by surprise," Ren said.
Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based political analyst, said Beijing's apparent success in grabbing control of social media is a big setback for free speech.
"They have always been able to control newspapers, radios and TV stations, but there have been some holes in the Internet, and the microblogging was the last hole," Chen said. "They have achieved their goal. When 10 percent of the accounts are banned, additional 20 to 30 percent of the users will not speak."
Authorities in recent months have been arresting microbloggers on the charge of spreading rumors or disrupting the public order, including a teenager boy who raised some questions over a murder case online. Many intellectuals, writers, and journalists have seen their blogging and microblogging accounts removed altogether. A Chinese-American businessman with a strong online following was arrested for soliciting prostitutes and paraded on state television in a campaign to discredit him.
Chinese propaganda officials have always seen the media — new or old — as a crucial tool to support state rule and are wary of cacophony.
"The ecosystem for public opinion online has noticeably improved, and that has created a good environment conducive to the overall work of the party of the government," Ren said, in touting the benefits of well-managed public discourse.
But the historian Zhang said Beijing has failed to play by rules when it shut down critical but law-abiding microblogging accounts. "They see critics as opponents," Zhang said. "That's a stupid thing to do."
Despite claiming preliminary success in taking control of the Internet, Beijing is likely to roll out more regulations. In a guiding document for the next five or even 10 years, China's senior leaders have mandated that the state must set the perimeters and the tone for online opinion with "positive guidance" and "management" and that the state should "standardize" how online communication unfolds.
Political analysts say they predict the heavy-handed control will continue. "They are still pretty nervous about preserving stability," said Steve Tsang, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham. "Given the political environment, I don't see any relaxation."
But known for their ingenuity to circumvent censorship, members of the Chinese public may again push for more room in speech, said Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"I think the cat and the mouse game will go on. People might be afraid now, but after a while, the old pattern will resume."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A crucial weekend for the troubled website that is the backbone of President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul appears to be off to a shaky start, as the U.S. government took the HealthCare.gov site offline for an unusually long maintenance period into Saturday morning.
Just hours before the Obama administration's self-imposed deadline to get the insurance shopping website working for the "vast majority" of its users by Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it was taking down the website for an 11-hour period that would end at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday.
It was unclear whether the extended shutdown of the website - about seven hours longer than on typical day - represented a major setback to the Obama administration's high-stakes scramble to fix the portal that it hopes eventually will enroll about 7 million uninsured and under-insured Americans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
At the very least, the shutdown suggested that nine weeks after the website's disastrous launch on October 1 prevented most applicants from enrolling in coverage and ignited one of the biggest crises of Obama's administration, U.S. officials are nervous over whether Americans will see enough progress in the website to be satisfied.
For the administration and its Democratic allies, the stakes are enormous.
The healthcare overhaul is Obama's signature domestic achievement, a program designed to extend coverage to millions of Americans and reduce healthcare costs. To work, the program must enroll millions of young, healthy consumers whose participation in the new insurance exchanges is key to keeping costs in check.
After weeks of round-the-clock upgrades of software and hardware, Obama officials said they were poised to successfully double its capacity by this weekend, to be able to handle 50,000 insurance shoppers at one time.
But if the website does not work for the "vast majority" of visitors this weekend as the administration has promised, uninsured Americans from 36 states could face problems getting coverage by an initial December 23 deadline.
It also could create ripples that extend to the 2014 elections when control of the U.S. House of Representatives (now controlled by Republicans) and the Senate (now led by Democrats) will be up for grabs.
Obama's fellow Democrats who are up for re-election in Congress already have shown signs of distancing themselves from the president and his healthcare program. If the website does not show significant improvement soon, some Democrats - particularly the dozen U.S. senators who are from states led by conservative Republicans and who are up for re-election next year - might call for extending Obamacare's final March 31 enrollment deadline for 2014.
That would delay the fines that are mandated by the law for those who do not have insurance by that date, a scenario that insurers say would destabilize the market. It also would fuel Republicans' arguments that Obamacare, and its website, are fatally flawed and should be scrapped.
In broader political terms, the website's immediate success has become vital to Obama's credibility, which polls indicate has been tarnished by the site's problems as well as Obama's admission that he overreached in promising that everyone who liked their healthcare plan would be able to keep it under the new law.
Obama has been forced to apologize for oversimplying how the law would affect certain Americans, and has acknowledged being embarrassed and frustrated by the website's failures. Recent polls have shown that Obama's approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency.
"It is a lot harder to reboot public trust than it is to reboot software," said David Brailer, chief executive of the Health Evolution Partners private equity firm and a former health official in George W. Bush's administration.
"But the good thing about when you're down is that usually, you got nowhere to go but up," Obama said in an interview that aired on Friday on ABC.
IS IT FIXED? HARD TO TELL
Several technology specialists told Reuters that it will be difficult to independently assess on Saturday whether the HealthCare.gov site has met the administration's goals of functioning for most users most of the time, including handling 50,000 users at once.
"There won't be anything you can tell from the outside," said Jonathan Wu, an information technology expert and co-founder of the consumer financial website ValuePenguin.
When the site opened for enrollment on October 1, many users found that they could not complete the simple task of creating an account. Now, the website is functioning better but any remaining problems lie much deeper within the site, Wu said in an interview.
Eleventh-hour checks were not encouraging, said Matthew Hancock, an independent expert in software design who said he could tell within hours of the site's launch that its problems were the results of poor system design and bugs, rather than the heavy traffic that the administration blamed initially.
"I have tested the site every several days trying to buy a health insurance plan, but haven't been able to," Hancock said.
"I think the issues the site faces now are more complex to diagnose from the front end, whereas before the site was immediately failing and returning error details," he said.
Questions also remain about the website's ability to direct payments to private insurance companies when consumers enroll in their plans. Portions of the system handling those functions are still being built, officials say.
"The real tests are: Were my premium payment and subsidy accurately calculated? Am I getting the coverage I signed up for? If my income situation changes, will the reconciliation occur in a timely fashion?" said Rick Howard, a research director at technology consultant Gartner.
A DATE AND A NUMBER
Heading into this weekend, administration officials tasked with rescuing Obamacare showed signs of confidence that the series of fixes by tech specialists would work.
The officials gave a "virtual tour" of what they had branded the "tech surge" to a group of White House reporters.
The White House also invited a group of IT specialists to tour the website's "command center," where an engineer on unpaid leave from Google Inc directs disparate contractors and monitors their progress.
Engates, who had been publicly critical of the launch, said he felt it was likely the website would be able to handle 50,000 concurrent users on Saturday, although he did not know for sure.
"Whenever you have a date and a number, you need to be pretty sure that you can hit that date and that number," Engates told Reuters.
"It's just another loss of confidence if you don't make it."
(Editing by David Lindsey and Lisa Shumaker)
Microsoft's search for a new CEO has been playing out rather publicly, with Ford CEO Alan Mulally pegged as the front runner since September.
Dina Bass and Carol Hymowitz at Bloomberg reiterated that Mulally is the leading external candidate, with Satya Nadella, who runs Servers & Tools as the leading internal candidate.
Mulally has a lot of people scratching their heads. He's not a tech guy. He's not a visionary, and he doesn't seem like a very long term solution.
The argument in favor of Mulally is that he's done a brilliant job at Boeing and Ford. Microsoft needs a sharp manager to reshape the company and Mulally could be the guy to make that happen.
Nadella has successfully run Microsoft's most promising new business line, so he makes sense as an internal candidate. Also, Microsoft is really an enterprise company, so promoting Nadella makes a lot of sense.
While those two seem to be the favorites of the board, it is Tony Bates, who came to Microsoft when it acquired Skype, who is the leading internal candidate, we've heard from a Microsoftie. Our source says Bates is the guy people inside Microsoft are hoping is named CEO.
Kara Swisher at AllThingsD says she's heard the same thing. She's also heard that just about everyone in Silicon Valley thinks Microsoft should pick Bates.
The case for Bates: He's both an insider and an outsider at Microsoft. He's an insider because he's been at the company for two years, but an outsider because that's not that long. He has consumer/mobile skills from running Skype. He was previously at Cisco, so he understands bigger company dynamics, and the enterprise.
The case against Bates: He ran Skype for less than a year, and mostly seemed to just guide to its Microsoft sale. He's never led a major public company like Microsoft. Swisher says he never stuck his neck out for any major projects at Microsoft, so he doesn't have a huge resume at the company.
Here's Swisher on what she's hearing:
...More than a dozen tech leaders in Silicon Valley, as well as several top Microsoft execs, I have talked to over the last week have one single choice to lead the company: Tony Bates.
...those I spoke to said Bates had all the right assets, making him “the best candidate across all of the various criteria,” said one source.
“Tony is a bold choice that would say a lot to the rest of the tech world that Microsoft is ready to engage,” said another source close to the company. “Mulally makes sense only if the board wants a transitional figure, which means it basically doesn’t know what to do yet.”
The winter holidays are upon us, which means many traders and investors will be away from their workstations.
So, what to do for those who want to keep tabs on what's going on overseas — where markets will be open for business as usual?
Luckily, investors with smartphones or tablets have their choice of apps to keep them up to speed while away from their desks.
We went through nearly 100 finance-related mobile apps and these are the best ones we found.
Most of the apps listed here are either free or pretty inexpensive, too.
App Store rating:
iPhone, iPad, Android
Why we like it:
Live updating quotes on currency pairs, global stock exchanges, and key commodities, as well as an awesome feed with economic data releases around the world. The best part: you can set up the app to send you push notifications when economic data is released.
FRED Economic Data
App Store rating:
iPhone, iPad, Android
Why we like it:
For those unfamiliar with FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), it's a massive repository with tens of thousands of time series for various economic datapoints. Now, you can chart 34,000 economic data series from around the world, right on your mobile device.
ChartIQ Pro - Stock Charts and Technical Analysis
App Store rating:
Why we like it:
The best app for drawing charts on the iPad. Overlay charts with various drawings like Fibonacci retracements or trend lines, or add technical indicators to the chart. When you're done, use the share button to tweet charts directly from your iPad.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
The U.S. Army is opting to settle a copyright infringement case for $50 million after a software developer demanded $225 million in damages over the alleged installation of software without licenses, Brian Fung of The Washington Post reports.
Back in 2004, the Army hired Apptricity to create a software application that could keep track of where its soldiers deployed. The company delivered a handful of server and device licenses for $4.5 million that year, and the service purchased more about five years later.
According to Apptricity's complaint however, the Army installed the software on nearly 100 servers and more than 9,000 devices.
The company found out their software was being copied after an Army official mentioned "thousands" of devices were running the software, during a presentation attended by Apptricity employees, according to the BBC.
And when the Army found out, the company alleged it tried covering its tracks.
"Apptricity discovered that ... the Army had engaged another contractor, Future Research Corporation of Huntsville, Alabama, to reverse engineer a portion of Apptricity's software application suite and proprietary framework architecture to replace certain infringed intellectual property rather than pay for the license shortfall," the complaint read.
The company went on to explain it found out through the Army providing them one of the reverse-engineered copies of the software.
The CTIA, an international organization made up of wireless carriers and suppliers, announced that it had finished building its database of stolen smartphones, part of its work with police chiefs from major cities to deter smartphone theft.
A frustration of law enforcement officials across the globe is that criminals that steal smartphones often ship them out of the country that they steal them in so that the devices can be resold and activated on wireless networks that have no record of the theft.
The database will register stolen devices so that they can be blacklisted by wireless carriers even when the device is outside of a particular carrier's network of subscribers. Carriers hope that by refusing to provide service to people using blacklisted devices they will be able to reduce the incentive for stealing smartphones.
Construction of the database began last year and the announcement of its implementation comes just before the November 30, 2013 deadline. (CTIA)
In other news...
In North America, Apple is offering consumers gift cards when they purchase select products either online or in stores during Black Friday. (Apple)
Tablets drove 14.8% of all online sales on Thanksgiving, according to IBM. (IBM)
More than 400 online retailers are offering special Black Friday deals to consumers that purchase goods with Bitcoin. (TechCrunch)
Samsung spends more on advertising than any company in the world, as a percentage of sales. (Reuters)
CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally, is under consideration to replace Steve Ballmer at Microsoft, according to Bloomberg. (Bloomberg)
Apple sold only 8% more smartphones than Xiaomi in the third quarter. (Kantar Worldpanel)
Black Friday is just about over. Hopefully you scored some great deals. If not, it's not too late to take advantage of Cyber Monday.
And, according to Mark Cuban, you definitely should take advantage.
A few years ago at our IGNITION conference, Cuban gave his advice for investing to people of various incomes/savings. This is one of our favorite things Cuban has ever said, and we like to post it every year around this time as a reminder.
People with $25,000-$100,000 should first pay off any debt they have "because that's a guaranteed return," says Cuban.
If you have extra money, don't put it into public equities, says Cuban. He says you're better off using the "transactional value of cash."
What is that? That means, get the most bang for you buck at times like Black Friday, or, since you perhaps missed that, Cyber Monday instead.
A lot of people think that investing in stocks is the best way to grow money and avoid inflation. Cuban thinks the market is risky and can very easily vaporize your money.
As for inflation, he says you can fight inflation by using cash to get discounts. So, if you hold onto your cash through the year, then go shopping on Cyber Monday and get 30%-40% off of stuff, you're going to beat inflation. Or, if you go to a store and offer to pay cash if you can get a discount, you can avoid inflation. That's what he calls the "transactional value of cash."
This all changes is you're over $100,000 in savings. In that case, think about investing in public or private companies. Here's a clip with Cuban explaining it all:
Produced by Kamelia Angelova, Robert Libetti & Dan Goodman
Time spent on social media has officially tipped from the desktop to mobile. This has huge implications for social advertising. Native advertising, in which posts are integrated into the social media stream, is already performing well on desktop.
But on mobile, the stream is the experience, and native advertising is the only type of ad served.
For a recent report, BI Intelligence spoke to leaders in the native advertising space, including major ad buyers, investors in up-and-coming social media networks like Pinterest, and social media analytics experts to understand the forces driving the stampede into native-social advertising. We examine the top formats, dig into Facebook's suite of native ad products, and look at how effective native-social ads can be.
"In the future, all advertising on social media will be native in-stream ads," says Jan Rezab, CEO of Socialbakers, a social media analytics company that works with Fortune 100 brands. "The right rail and banners will disappear altogether."
Here's why experts are so bullish:
- At BIA/Kelsey, which forecast that $11 billion would be spent on social ads in 2017 and 40% would go to native ads, Jed Williams, author of the forecast, said: "if I was to re-forecast the native ad market today, would we project it growing larger at a faster rate? Certainly."
- In-stream native ads look, feel, and function seamlessly across mobile and PC, which is precisely what brands want, as they seek to build cross-device campaigns.
- On mobile's smaller screens, the stream is the experience. Mobile ad spend was up 83% last year, to $8.9 billion globally.
- Twitter started the native-social ad trend with Promoted Tweets in early 2010. The social network is now among the most influential voices in arguing that TV and digital ad spend can work hand-in-hand. Twitter now offers a suite of three different in-stream native ad products.
- Now, LinkedIn is making major investments in its native strategy and Pinterest is piloting native ads on its platform.
- We believe image- and video-sharing networks such as Pinterest, Vine, and Snapchat will soon be offering some of the most effective types of native ads, centered on pictures. Photos are the most shared type of content on the Web; 43% of global Internet users have shared a photo in the past month.
In full, the report:
- Compares the adoption of native-social ads by top brands and advertisers, and how committed they are to allocating spend to each of the social networks
- Looks at what native advertising might look like on Snapchat, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram, the most image-centric social networks
- Discusses how native-social advertisements can be bought and sold in automated exchanges like Facebook's FBX
- Examines the data that proves the effectiveness of in-stream ads and their superior metrics relative to banner and display ads
- Explains why market research firms have underestimated how big the shift to native-social advertising has turned out to be