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Thursday, September 4, 2014

FCC Chairman Says All the Right Things, But Critics Remain Suspicious

FCC Chairman Says All the Right Things, But Critics Remain Suspicious


FCC Chairman Says All the Right Things, But Critics Remain Suspicious

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 11:00 AM PDT

Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler gave an impassioned speech Thursday, saying it’s "intolerable" that 75% of Americans have no choice between Internet Service Providers offering fixed broadband at speeds fast enough for modern use. Wheeler also called for the government and industry to "do everything in our power" to increase competition among ISPs like Comcast and Verizon, and to create a robust public policy that protects a vibrant, dynamic, and open Internet.

On the surface, Wheeler’s speech hit all the right notes with tech entrepreneurs, open Internet advocates and consumer rights groups. But behind the scenes, it was met with a dose of cynicism.

Critics pointed out that Wheeler has previously sworn allegiance to popular concepts like "net neutrality," the notion that ISPs must treat all web content equally, while simultaneously advancing federal rules that many tech entrepreneurs decry for betraying that concept. Advocates have submitted a record-breaking 1.3 million comments to the FCC in recent months over the issue, many of which pan Wheeler’s version of “net neutrality” rules.

Similarly, Wheeler's fervent call for more competition–“competition, competition, competition!” he said repeatedly during his speech–in the broadband market was met with approval from most in the audience. But it seemed to some consumer advocates to be disingenuous in a climate where the FCC is widely expected approve of a massive planned merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the next six months.

“The real proof will be in the agency’s actions and not just its speeches,” wrote advocacy group Free Press’ policy director, Matt Wood, in a prepared statement.

In one part of his speech that will likely draw support from many in the Internet advocacy community, Wheeler re-defined high speed broadband Internet as having download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (mbps). The FCC's official definition is still only 4mbps, which doesn't make sense, Wheeler said, in a world where it takes 5mbps to download a single high-definition video, much less to access streaming apps for educational or healthcare purposes.

Quibbling over the definition of high speed broadband matters in this highly politicized space. Broadband service providers often claim at Congressional hearings and in legal filings that they have lots of competition from other ISPs, but they cite as examples rival companies that offer what most Americans would consider unacceptably slow service. For example, in the legal filing for its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast claims that it’s engaged in “robust competition” with telecom and mobile phone companies, many of which offer DSL or other services with download speeds significantly slower than 25 mbps.

On this point, Wheeler was clear: “At 25mbps [download speeds], there is simply no competitive choice for most Americans," he said, unequivocally.

Wheeler, who spoke at 1776’s start-up space in downtown Washington, D.C., spent a good portion of his speech laying out what he called his "Agenda for Broadband Competition." It centers on not only encouraging competition between existing broadband service providers, but also creating new competition—a turn of phrase that seemed to suggest that the FCC may move more actively into citizen-supported municipal broadband.

"Where meaningful competition is not available, the commission will work to create it," Wheeler said. He also cited recent petitions asking the FCC to review recent laws, most of which were underwritten by local cable and telecom companies, that make it illegal for cities to create their own broadband. Eliminating such local laws would allow municipalities, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build and maintain their own Internet networks, competing directly with incumbent telecom and cable companies–a highly controversial idea in this space.

Wheeler also pointed to the fact that in cities where Google Fiber has begun offering super-fast gigabit download speeds, local cable and telecom companies, which have balked in the past at the cost of investing in faster networks, have recently increased the speeds of their service. He added that while the majority of Americans have access to 100mbps download speeds, that’s just not enough.

“Just because Americans have access to next generation broadband doesn’t mean they have competitive choices.”

Google VP Megan Smith Gets Top White House Tech Job

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 10:55 AM PDT

The White House announced Thursday that it has named Megan Smith, most recently Vice President at Google’s X labs, as the nation’s next Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President.

Smith, an MIT-educated engineer and entrepreneur, will “guide the Administration's information-technology policy and initiatives,” according to a blog post from John Holdren, the White House Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"Megan has spent her career leading talented teams and taking cutting-edge technology and innovation initiatives from concept to design to deployment," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "I am confident that in her new role as America's chief technology officer, she will put her long record of leadership and exceptional skills to work on behalf of the American people."

Smith—the first woman and third person ever to hold the position—will be joined by the legal expertise of Alexander Macgillivray, former General Counsel of Twitter, who the White House named as deputy CTO. Macgillivray will focus on Internet policy, intellectual property policy, and the future of big data, privacy and security.

At Google X, Smith was responsible for co-creating "SolveForX," a think tank project, and Google’s "Women Techmakers" diversity initiative. Smith first joined Google in 2003 as vice president of business development and oversaw several important acquisitions related to platforms like Google Earth, Google Maps and Picasa.

Prior to her work at Google, Smith was COO and CEO at PlanetOut, an interactive media company serving the gay and lesbian community.

Google Refunding Parents At Least $19 Million for Kids’ Unwanted Purchases

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 10:18 AM PDT

Google is the latest tech company to be dinged by federal regulators for making it too easy for kids to rack up unwanted in-app charges on their parents' phones. The tech giant has agreed to a settlement of at least $19 million with the Federal Trade Commission to refund parents for their children's unauthorized charges.

According to the FTC complaint, Google in 2011 did not require any password authorization to confirm in-app charges in its Google Play Store, then called the Android Market. The feature was added later, but inputting a password opened up a 30-minute window in which purchases could be made without a password confirmation. These issues led some parents to complain that their kids managed to rack up hundreds of dollars in charges buying virtual goods in games and other apps, according to the FTC. Seemingly harmless children’s mobile games can sometimes have individual items or features priced at as much as $200.

In addition to the refunds, Google will be required to get express consent from consumers when charging for in-app purchases in the future.

The Google settlement is the latest action in an ongoing campaign by the FTC to force tech companies to make their mobile payment systems more transparent. The Commission reached a $32.5 million settlement with Apple over the same issue in January, and is currently suing Amazon to seek similar refunds for customers whose kids placed unwanted charges.

Shoplifting Suspect Guilty Beyond the Eyeshadow of a Doubt, Police Say

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 10:10 AM PDT

If you had to guess from Brandy Allen’s mugshot what crime she was accused of, you probably wouldn’t be too far off.

The Arkansas woman—whose mugshot shows her in aqua and maroon eyeshadow from lashes to brow bone—was accused Monday of shoplifting $144 worth of eyeshadow, according to the Associated Press.

When Allen was confronted after stuffing the makeup into her bag, she unleashed a slew of profanity while attempting to damage the eyeshadow as she pulled it from her purse, so it’d seem the products were used, police said.

But the police didn’t buy it, and Allen was arrested shortly after. The Washington County jail said Wednesday that Allen was released on $830 bond on charges of shoplifting and disorderly conduct.

No word on what color eyeshadow she wore for her release.

Shark! Great White Goes After Massachusetts Kayakers

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 10:04 AM PDT

What started out as a relaxing paddle in the Atlantic Ocean ended with a terrifying encounter with a shark for two women—and large bite marks on their kayaks to prove it. Ida Parker and her friend were kayaking off Plymouth, Mass., on Wednesday when the fin of a great white crept out of the open water.

“It came completely out of the water and got the bottom of the boat,” Parker, wrapped in a towel, said as she struggled not to cry. “It flipped [my friend] over and it knocked my kayak completely over…”

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

Hands On: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 09:59 AM PDT

Samsung recently unveiled two new Galaxy Note phones, one that’s a by-the-book upgrade to last year’s Note 3, and one that does something innovative and has the potential to shake up the way you use Android for the better.

There’s no official price announcement yet, but both phones will be out in October. Want to check them out sooner than that? Later this week, the public in New York City, Chicago, Dallas, L.A., and San Francisco will get a chance to at least play with demo models at select carriers. If you don’t live in any of those cities, check out our hands-on below.

The Galaxy Note Edge shines

Let’s start with the more exciting one, the Galaxy Note Edge. So named because the screen wraps around one edge of the phone to provide a secondary display for things like quick-launch apps or features, tools and settings, the weather and more. Plus, it just looks really cool. Samsung gets points for coming up with a useful way to incorporate a curving screen into a smartphone that isn’t just a rehash of a phone we’ve seen before (no copying the LG G Flex!). It also gets points for not just coming up with something gimmicky that dazzles in the display case yet fizzles in your hand.

The edge display on this new phone has actual features people will appreciate, such as the ability to run simple programs like Timer or Stopwatch, display data like the time or an alarm and weather conditions. There are several ways to customize all of this, and with the release of the code for developers, soon there could be more fun and useful stuff for that narrow screen.

The only worry I have is that wrapping the screen around the edge of the phone means greater chance of the screen cracking when it falls. Samsung didn’t show off any cool cases specifically for the Galaxy Note Edge–though we assume there will be some at launch–so it’s not that hard to imagine it slipping from the fingers. I also worry that just holding the phone the way I normally do might accidentally activate apps I don’t what it to activate. Knowing if this will be a problem will have to wait for the full review.

Aside from the cool curving bit, the Quad HD resolution display is gorgeous. Super AMOLED rarely disappoints, and the Galaxy Note Edge’s is bright with popping colors and deep blacks. Plus the viewing angles appear to be wide. One thing I noted is that when I turned the brightness all the way down, the screen went almost completely black instead of just very dim. That’s likely a power-saving measure–I’d be interested to see if the screen is still visible in dark, dark rooms.

The Galaxy Note 4 updates the solid Note 3

samsung-galaxy-note-4
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 K.T. Bradford / Techlicious

All of that is the same for the Galaxy Note 4. In fact, the phones are identical except for curved displays. Same resolution, same processor, same cameras, same S Pen. Yes, the Galaxy Note Edge is a Note, as the name indicates, and comes with a pen. More on that later.

The Galaxy Note 4 is an incremental upgrade from the Note 3, which is an indication that Samsung feels it’s mostly got the Note right, finally. The new generation is a bit taller than the Note 3, but otherwise shares the same general size, shape and design accents. The 5.7-inch display is still the same physical size, but it has the higher Quad HD resolution. One thing to note design-wise is that the flat edge that encircles the phone is made of metal. The back is still plastic, and removable, but there’s now more metal in the overall design.

In the hand, the Note 4 feels about the same as the Note 3. Still a two-handed device, but this is to be expected with phablets.

The version of TouchWiz on the new Galaxy Notes is the same as what Samsung released with the Galaxy S5. During my short hands-on time, it appeared to run just as smoothly and the overall look benefits from the bright, saturated colors the Super AMOLED screen produces. You can still do multitasking with Multi-Window, which has picked up a few tricks from the tablet line. Now you can not only resize the windows and decide how much of the screen each takes up, you can make any compatible window a floating window of any size. This kind of thing works better on a bigger screen. I still like having the option.

Samsung upgraded the rear and front-facing cameras. In back, you now get a 16MP shooter with image stabilization that is supposed to take much better pictures in low light than its predecessor. The Note cameras have never been quite as good as the Galaxy S cameras in the same generation. However, this time it looks like there’s more parity. In front, Samsung is taking a cue from HTC with a 3.7MP, wide-angle camera that can capture more people in one shot than before. Not so useful for Instagram, but nice that you can fit a crowd of people or more of the background into your selfies.

There are no new S Pen tricks in this generation other than the S Pen itself being more sensitive. Otherwise, it’s unchanged. This isn’t a bad thing, as the S Pen is one of the aspects of the Note that just works and doesn’t need to be messed with at all.

A few other features worth noting on both: the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor from the Galaxy S5 are here on these phones as well. Plus, there’s a UV scanner. If you’re running out of battery you can get 50% juiced in 30 minutes with rapid charging. And an ultra low power mode will keep the phone running for up to 20 hours if you’re down to 10%.

The new Galaxy Note 4 may not have a slew of wowgeewiz! new features and functionality to show off. That doesn’t make it a non-exciting phone. If you are looking to upgrade from a Note 2 you’ll be very impressed. Note 3 owners might not feel the need to do so. They may be tempted by the Galaxy Note Edge, though. This is where the real coolness comes in. However, as I said, some of the neat bits of the design worry me in terms of usage and durability. I’ll reserve judgment until I get to do a full review. Still, the Note Edge is a very cool phone and I hope a harbinger of things to come.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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Chris Pratt Messes Up First Pitch at Cubs Game, Is Completely Charming About It

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 09:50 AM PDT

We’ve finally found the one thing Chris Pratt cannot do perfectly: throw a baseball. He took the mound at Wrigley Field yesterday to throw the first pitch on behalf of the Cubs — and while it wasn’t a complete disaster, it definitely wasn’t great:

As expected, though, he totally pulled a Chris Pratt and was adorable and charming about the whole thing. The Parks and Recreation star, who was in Chicago filming the show, just threw his hands in the air, shrugged it off, smiled his Chris Pratt smile, and moved on with his life. Then he took selfies with fans because he’s the best:

To be fair, the pitch wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other first pitches we’ve seen — but even if it had been the worst one of all time, we’re confident that Pratt would have found a way to make it adorable.

Obama and British Leader Say They Won’t Be ‘Cowed by Barbaric Killers’

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 09:49 AM PDT

The United States and Britain will “not be cowed” by Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria who have killed two American journalists, the leaders of both nations said Thursday.

Ahead of a NATO summit in Wales that began Thursday, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron published a joint article in the Times of London saying they will “confront” the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and calling for international action to address security threats around the world.

“If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong,” they wrote. “Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defence of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our own people safe.”

The NATO summit, which is formally scheduled to address the drawdown in Afghanistan and the conflict in Ukraine, comes days after the ISIS released a video depicting its beheading of a second American journalist.

Obama and Cameron also called for NATO to increase pressure on Russia, which Western officials say is meddling in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.

“With Russia trying to force a sovereign state to abandon its right to democracy and determining the course of its future at the barrel of a gun, we should support Ukraine's right to determine its own democratic future and continue our efforts to enhance Ukrainian capabilities,” they wrote.

The Devious Side of Netflix’s New Facebook Feature

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 09:42 AM PDT

If you have a pulse and an Internet connection you have some idea of how much information companies can learn about you from your online activity. It seems the longer I go without cleaning my apartment the more ads I see for housecleaning services. These days, just watching a diaper ad crawl across the screen is a surefire way to give me petrified-deer-in-headlights face.

Netflix seems to work by the same sorcery—among my Top Pics right now is a Burning Man documentary, for instance, but could they possibly know I just returned from my first-ever Burn? Also in my Top Pics is Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Volume 2, and I don't even remember watching volume 1, so….

Anyway, the point is that Netflix's new social media sharing initiative/attempt to insinuate itself into more of my life is a little worrisome.

The video streaming service revealed Tuesday that they are introducing a new "recommendation feature" in its Facebook app. Per the video accompanying the announcement, the feature lets you share your choices with people you know after you've seen a great show or movie. It's "a great way to keep you and your friends talking about the shows you love," says Netflix.

That’s a sweet sentiment, but I'm not certain I want my friends talking about the shows I love.Will everyone be disappointed by how often I don't watch even a remotely challenging documentary? Will the guys be disturbed by the frequency with which I watch Parenthood? Will theoretical physicists be flummoxed by the unfathomably massive quantity of hours I have devoted to (re)watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and 30 Rock while holding down a full time job?

The company promises it won't broadcast your choices to all your friends' feeds and that recommendations only go to specific friends to whom you choose to send them. That being the case, we can table for a moment privacy concerns (we've still got an eye on you, so stay cool, Netflix) and turn to more interesting possibilities. In fact, I think Netflix may have just turned itself into a massive library of cultural emojis.

Netflix says the recommendation feature activates after you've watched a show. So the obvious question then is how close do you have to get to finishing something before you can start recommending your boss check out that amazing documentary about how Google's office environment with delicious free food and ping pong tables and whatnot is so conducive to creativity? Or, can you watch just five minutes of a PBS special about protest movements and before sending it to that special someone who is really into social justice?

Other recommendation quandaries will certainly arise:

Should you hint to an unfaithful lover that you’re on to them by sending I Know What You Did Last Summer?

As Fantasy Football season kicks into gear, should you expect to see not so subtle smack-talk hit your Facebook account in the form of specific episodes of The League?

Is sending out a mass all-your-cards-on-the-table recommendation that your hottest Facebook friends watch 9 1/2 Weeks too obvious? (And furthermore, will your Facebook friends see that you've recommended the same flicks to others too?)

I can see all this movie recommending sending us into fits of hyper-overanalysis. Trust me, if you’re a perennial Ph.D. candidate no one is going to be able to recommend you watch The Graduate without setting off a whole cascading series of questions (especially if the recommendation comes from a middle aged friend of your parents’, in which case you’ll be grappling with a whole separate set of questions).

Important issues all.

Netflix recommendations could become the new mixtape. (Or mixspotifylist? What do kids use now?) It’ll be most interesting to see what the teenagers do with this new feature. When it comes to social media the kids these days are in….

Labor Giant to Battle GOP With ‘Koch Sisters’ Campaign

Posted: 04 Sep 2014 09:41 AM PDT

The largest labor federation in America is rolling out a new ad campaign highlighting the perceived political might of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, featuring their own pair of Kochs.

The umbrella union organization AFL-CIO introduced Thursday Karen and Joyce Koch, two women who aren't biologically related to each other or Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists and conservative donors painted by some Democrats and liberal groups as sinister moneymen dictating the Republican agenda. Karen and Joyce, says the ad, are "sisters in spirit" who "aren't trying to buy up our democracy."

In a phone call with reporters Thursday morning, Eric Hauser, the AFL-CIO communications director, said the Koch Sister campaign would "expose the destructiveness of unchecked money in politics generally, and the Koch brothers specifically, and elevate the values that Joyce and Karen and millions and tens of millions of working people feel very deeply for themselves, their families, their communities and the country."

The AFL-CIO is asking supporters to sign up to become a Koch “sister" themselves. Signees will receive updates and briefings from the AFL-CIO and will possibly be able to sign up for unspecified contests. It’s "more of a value statement than anything else,” Hauser said. "I intend to become one right after this call."

The 30-second “Meet the Koch Sisters!” spot will air on CNN and MSNBC in Lansing, Mich. and Lexington, Ky. through the end of the next week "at a minimum," according Hauser. The ad will also run on broadcast news stations in Washington, DC.

Hauser said that the “driving factor” why the ads will run in Michigan is Karen, who works as a volunteer for Michigan Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters and gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer. The Kentucky airtime purchase could influence voters in the Senate race between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, which is widely expected to be the most expensive this cycle.

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