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  • The crucial breakthrough to completing [Christopher Nolan’s] “Inception” script was considering what could happen if multiple people could share the same dream.“Once you remove the privacy,” Mr. Nolan said, “you’ve created an infinite number of alternative universes in which people can meaningfully interact, with validity, with weight, with dramatic consequences.”
  • After years of effort to coax empathy from machines, robots and devices designed to soothe, support and keep us company are venturing out of the laboratory.
  • The psychological devices people use to manage what they express can affect social interactions in unintended ways.
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In mid-December, Google detected a sophisticated cyber attack on its corporate infrastructure.

Further investigation revealed that Google was among a number of Silicon Valley businesses and entities–from the finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–that fell under siege. The attackers may have succeeded in the theft of intellectual property, e.g. corporate data and software source codes, by exploiting an IE browser vulnerability.

Additionally, Google discovered that dozens of Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These activists were based in China, as well as Europe and the US. The search-engine giant suspected these attacks originated from China.

From the Official Google Blog:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China.

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

McAfee’s Chief Technology Officer, George Kurtz, said the Google hack comprised the “largest and most sophisticated cyberattack we have seen in years targeted at specific corporations“.

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Updates:
Foreign Journalists in Beijing Hit by E-Mail Hackers [NYT]
France, Germany Say Avoid IE Until Security Vulnerability Patched [eWeek]
Google probing possible inside help on attack [Yahoo]

eReaders and tablets have flooded this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Advances in technology have made it possible to manufacture these devices with a longer battery life and at an “ever-decreasing cost,” according to the NY Times.

“There are a billion and a half Internet users on the planet today, and a lot of them are primarily using it for entertainment and social networking,” said Glen Burchers, director of global consumer segment marketing at Freescale, a chip company hoping to power the new tablets. [via A Deluge of Devices for Reading and Surfing]

Consumers will soon be able to pick and choose from a wide range of products specifically designed for reading and/or surfing the Internet, for around the price of a netbook. Perhaps these WiFi-ready reading devices will help to rescue, or at least keep afloat the floundering print & publishing industries.

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Bonnier R&D and design firm BERG partnered to explore the future of digital magazines. Below is a conceptual video for  Mag+, a prototype for a future issue of Popular Science. According to Bonnier, they tried to capture the essence of magazine reading and create an experience where “high-quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.”

Sports Illustrated has their own take:

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3D HDTV was another buzzword at CES 2010, but the technology has been hyped up too much.

Watching Avatar 3D was a great experience, but I can’t imagine having to wear bulky 3D glasses over my glasses every time I wanted to watch TV. That would be a (dizzying) pain. I hope 3D TV doesn’t become standard.

“The fantasy of swapping out your tired life for a better one is a stalwart plot device in fiction, from Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby to The Passenger and Mad Men. In such stories, the decision to take on a new identity often occurs in a single, serendipitous moment; an opportunity presents itself, and the character makes the fateful choice, often getting away with it. In real life, ad hoc escape plans rarely end well.” [Gone Forever: What Does It Take to Really Disappear? via Wired]

Writer Evan Ratliff has long been fascinated by faked deaths and sudden disappearances–ploys of fugitives and individuals desperate to start a new life. In Gone Forever, Ratliff recounts the story of 42 year old Matthew Alan Sheppard. Due on charges of fraud and embezzlement, Sheppard staged a drowning to thwart the police (complete with family getaway). But he slipped up and was captured six months later.

Reporting on the phenomena of disappearances and reinvented identities and was one thing, Ratliff said. To understand it, he figured he had to try it out. After talking with the editor of WIRED, Nicholas Thompson, it turned into a contest.

On the evening of August 14, Ratliff announced the details.

Starting August 15, he would try to stay hidden. He challenged readers to find him in 30 days. The prize? $5,000. To make it fair, Thompson posted Ratliff’s bank transactions, phone calls, and e-mails online.

Hundreds teamed up, sharing intel and coordinating through social media networks, in what quickly became a coast-to-coast augmented reality game. Ratliff narrates his harrowing journey, how he hid and was chased in Gone: Shedding your Identity in the Digital Age.

“The goal was to see whether Evan could create another identity—of a person who would live the kind of life that Evan would want to live. And Evan likes to live in cities; he likes to use Facebook and Twitter; he wouldn’t ever want the life a recluse or someone truly off the grid,” said Thompson.

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It’s a fantastic read:

August 13, 6:40 PM: I’m driving East out of San Francisco on I-80, fleeing my life under the cover of dusk. Having come to the interstate by a circuitous route, full of quick turns and double backs, I’m reasonably sure that no one is following me. I keep checking the rearview mirror anyway. From this point on, there’s no such thing as sure. Being too sure will get me caught.

I had intended to flee in broad daylight, but when you are going on the lam, there are a surprising number of last-minute errands to run. This morning, I picked up a set of professionally designed business cards for my fake company under my fake name…” [Read more here]

This is a lighthearted story from SF Chronicle that I had bookmarked at the beginning of summer, which draws distinctions between “typical” iPhone and Blackberry users. (What, I’m more Blackberry than iPhone?)

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Smartphone stereotypes beginning to break down by Ellen Lee
There’s a joke about a woman describing the kind of men she’s interested in meeting. “I want to date an iPhone user,” she says. “And marry a BlackBerry user.”

It’s a statement of how deeply the iPhone and BlackBerry smart phones have penetrated pop culture. The BlackBerry acts as shorthand for buttoned-up business men…[Full article @ SFGate]

[Read the whole story @ Wall Street Journal]


My internship over at Sacramento ended a week ago, but I’m still addicted to California politics. Serving as a novice member of the capitol press corps through the UC Center Sacramento Journalism Program was an eye-opening experience. Reading about the economy and state government in textbooks is one thing, but living it is a whole different monster.

It’s like getting front row seats to the SuperBowl. Or the reality TV show to end all others. Ah, the sporadic protests, 11th-hour legislative sessions, closed-door negotiations, bills, perpetual deadlocks…suspense and financial craziness that accompanied the seemingly insolvent budget crisis.

I have lived to see the golden state plunge over 24 billion dollars into the red, slash budgets to bits, issue “IOUs” (because it had almost no cash flow), demand 3 unpaid furlough days from its workers, and host a garage sale. Upcoming events: state parks to close following this weekend (unprecedented), tens of thousands of inmates to be released (per a federal court ruling) over the next two years to reduce overcrowding, and lawmakers to revamp the state’s ancient water system (while saving the Delta?). Maybe unemployment rate will lower, as well.

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And to think that reporters spend their waking hours making sense of the maelstrom of the day’s events, organizing and condensing them in a more palatable form for the public. Journalists are awesome.

Random fact: From April 2008 to April 2009, Twitter has seen a 1,298% increase in visitors, whereas Facebook has only seen a 217% increase by comparison (Source: Nielsen).

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Ever since all the major newspapers and The White House jumped on board, I’ve been wanting to open a Twitter account or two. I love new sources of information. Unfortunately, I am still lacking in the infrastructure department (AKA I don’t have a smartphone) so it would be no different than blogging and sharing links through Facebook from my home computer. If I am to tweet, I need to be mobile!

Speaking of smartphones, the Palm Pre was released on June 6th to modest fanfare. It’s not much of a serious contender against the iPhone, because it has so few apps and games available. However, the Pre does has some perks. The WebOS user interface allows multiple applications to run simultaneously using a virtual “deck of cards” metaphor. Also, the Pre is able to gather data streams from all your online accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc.) and compile a comprehensive contacts list, without duplicates [Synergy].

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Thought I’d share these paragraphs from a TIME article I just read:
How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live“.

Skeptics might wonder just how much subversion and wit is conveyable via 140-character updates. But in recent months Twitter users have begun to find a route around that limitation by employing Twitter as a pointing device instead of a communications channel: sharing links to longer articles, discussions, posts, videos — anything that lives behind a URL. Websites that once saw their traffic dominated by Google search queries are seeing a growing number of new visitors coming from “passed links” at social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This is what the naysayers fail to understand: it’s just as easy to use Twitter to spread the word about a brilliant 10,000-word New Yorker article as it is to spread the word about your Lucky Charms habit.

Put those three elements together — social networks, live searching and link-sharing — and you have a cocktail that poses what may amount to the most interesting alternative to Google’s near monopoly in searching. At its heart, Google’s system is built around the slow, anonymous accumulation of authority: pages rise to the top of Google’s search results according to, in part, how many links point to them, which tends to favor older pages that have had time to build an audience. That’s a fantastic solution for finding high-quality needles in the immense, spam-plagued haystack that is the contemporary Web. But it’s not a particularly useful solution for finding out what people are saying right now, the in-the-moment conversation that industry pioneer John Battelle calls the “super fresh” Web. Even in its toddlerhood, Twitter is a more efficient supplier of the super-fresh Web than Google. If you’re looking for interesting articles or sites devoted to Kobe Bryant, you search Google. If you’re looking for interesting comments from your extended social network about the three-pointer Kobe just made 30 seconds ago, you go to Twitter.

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P.S. Microsoft released their new decision-search engine called Bing, which organizes search results into relevant categories (like a guidebook) rather than displaying long series of individual links.

During the past few months, the crisis in journalism has reached meltdown proportions. It is now possible to contemplate a time when some major cities will no longer have a newspaper and when magazines and network-news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters.

There is, however, a striking and somewhat odd fact about this crisis. Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people.

The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines. [How to Save Your Newspapers via TIME]

savenews
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Good journalism from mainstream media is extremely valuable. New media (i.e. uprising of citizen news+blogging websites) can never supplant international journalistic institutions, because they lack the infrastructure necessary for breaking BIG stories and holding governments and businesses accountable.

The Web spoils us with the idea that journalism is free. With online readership on the rise in spite of falling revenues, newspapers need to begin charging for online content. The traditional advertising-only revenue model alone is flawed cannot continue to support our newspapers.

For a subscription based or micropayment system to work, the process just has to be simple and easy enough. Pennies for an article, dimes for a full edition, or a dollars for months’ worth of access? I wouldn’t mind. Charging for unique content, “online extras” if you will, that leverages the full power of the Internet, is another possibility.

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The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the “executive summary.” Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply…
[All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper via WSJ]

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