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Digg founder launches tech newsletter

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Agence France-Presse 

SAN FRANCISCO--The founder of popular social news website Digg on Monday launched an email newsletter promising video interviews, product reviews, "rants" and early peeks at new Internet offerings.

Subscribers who pay $3.99 a month will be the first to receive "Foundation," crafted by Kevin Rose, Digg founder turned angel investor and host of video podcast "Diggnation," which is broadcast online by Revision 3.

"I plan on releasing rants, product reviews, rumors, and occasionally sending out early access to pre-launch websites," Rose said in an email message to followers of the "fforward" podcast.

Foundation videos will be available free at Revision3.com, iTunes, and at Rose's blog a month after subscribers receive ad-free versions in the newsletters, according to Rose.
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iPhone alarm glitch leaves users fuming

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Agence France-Presse

NEW YORK--The bells weren't ringing for many iPhone users this New Year's weekend, when thanks to a glitch the alarms on Apple's iconic mobile phones failed to go off, causing many to oversleep.

It was the second time in just a few months that the alarm function on the phone failed to activate correctly, prompting an avalanche of complaints on the social networking micro-blog Twitter.

"Dear iPhone, why didn't your alarm go off this morning? I set six of them. I've now missed church. Thanks for nothing," said one user Sunday morning.

"Some sort of digital iPhone pandemic is going on. Alarm clock failure reports are pouring in from all sources around the globe," said another Twitter user.

Apple said in a message sent to Macworld magazine that the California-based company was aware of the problem. "We're aware of an issue related to non-repeating alarms set for January 1 or 2," spokeswoman Natalie Harrison said.

"Customers can set recurring alarms for those dates and all alarms will work properly beginning January 3."

The problem seemed to be affecting Apple's most recent versions of iPhones and iPods launched in November, but website Engadget suggested that it may also have hit earlier versions.

The problem first occured when the clocks went back at the end of October and early November when Australian and British iPhone owners complained of being late for work because their alarms had not switched over to the new time.

Apple did not immediately respond to a query from AFP on Sunday.
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Firefox backs 'Do Not Track' with online stealth

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Agence France-Presse

MOUNTAIN VIEW--As concern about online privacy grows, Mozilla is promising to let people cloak Internet activity in free Firefox Web browsing software being released early next year.

"Technology that supports something like a 'Do Not Track' button is needed and we will deliver in the first part of next year," Mozilla chief executive Gary Kovacs said while providing a glimpse at Firefox 4 at the Mozilla's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

"The user needs to be in control," he added.

There is a disturbing imbalance between what websites need to know about visitors to personalize advertisements or services and the amount of data collected, according to Kovacs.

"It is not that ads are bad," he said. "It is what they do with my tracked behavior.

"Where I go on the Internet is how I live my life; that is a lot of data to hold just for someone to serve me ads."

Microsoft this month unveiled increased privacy options for the upcoming version of its popular Web browser Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) including a feature "to help keep third-party websites from tracking your Web behavior."

Microsoft said "Tracking Protection" will be built into a test version of IE9 being released early next year.

IE9 users will have to be savvy enough to activate the feature and create lists of the third-party websites that they do not want to track their behavior.

Internet Explorer is the most widely used Web browser in the United States followed by Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari.

Google, which beefed up Chrome in recent weeks and is testing a notebook computer that operates on the Web browser software, cautioned that the mechanics and ramifications of stealth browsing need to be figured out.

"The idea of 'Do Not Track' is interesting, but there doesn't seem to be consensus on what 'tracking' really means, nor how new proposals could be implemented in a way that respects people's current privacy controls," said the company, also based in Mountain View.

"We look forward to ongoing dialogue about what 'Do Not Track' could look like, and in the meantime we are always looking into new tools to give people more transparency and control over their online privacy."

Kovacs agreed that the issue is complicated, with vested interests that include advertisers paying for services or content offered free online.

Supporters of targeted online ads argue that Internet users benefit from getting pitches tailored to their interests.

Firefox believes perils to privacy online are urgent enough to warrant building stealth into the coming version of its browser software, which has 400 million users around the world.

"I fundamentally believe that the balance is tipped too far," Kovacs said of tracking Web users.

"You can't tell me the delivery of a piece of content is going to be that much better if you know everything about my life; it's all about moderation."

Firefox debuted in 2004 as an innovative, communally crafted open-source browser released as an option to Internet Explorer.

Mozilla touts itself as the people's alternative; only now the battlefield includes Google as both a supporter and a rival.

"Google is a great partner; it is one of those things where we cooperate and compete," Kovacs said. "When we get together we are either hugging or hitting, it depends on the day."

Mozilla doesn't believe that Chrome is truly an open browser despite being free nor is it convinced that the colossus will sacrifice its business interests when it comes to money to be made off user data.

"We believe that (Chrome) is tied to their commercial purposes," Kovacs said.

"As the Web grows in importance in our lives, having all that data sit with one vendor that is not truly cross platform and not truly cross device is an alarming thing."

A US Federal Trade Commission staff report released this month proposes safeguards including "Do Not Track" features in browsers for people who want their online activities unrecorded by websites they visit.

The report said industry efforts to address privacy through self-regulation "have been too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection."

"The report confirms that many companies -- both online and offline -- don't do enough to protect consumer privacy," said Democratic Senator John Kerry.

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Agence France-Presse

SEOUL--Lonesome South Koreans who have trouble finding true love can now get video calls from a beautiful and cute girlfriend -- if they download a smartphone application.

Nabix, a South Korean apps developer, launched one called "Honey, it's me!" on November 30 for iPhone users. It achieved 80,000 downloads a day during an initial free launch period.

There are a number of apps on the market that can make single men feel a little less lonesome, including a night time app that plays the sound of a female sleeping peacefully on the next pillow.

But the "Honey, it's me!" app appears to be the first to make video-calls from a virtual model. Mina, 22, video-calls smartphone users three to four times a day for some sweet talk.

Her messages range from "Are you still sleeping? Time for breakfast!" to "Good night, sweet dreams".

A Korean model posed for the video calls and recorded more than 100 comments to melt the hearts of single men.

"I've developed this application to console people for their loneliness," Kim Yoon-Kak, head of Nabix, told AFP.

Kim said usage had declined since the app went on sale for 1.99 dollars, but he planned to allow free downloads again from this week.

Early reaction to Mina has been enthusiastic. "It's a blessing for all single men," praised one of the users on Twitter.

"Mina called me while I was working overtime. This is just great," said another.

Nabix now plans new versions with more messages in English, Chinese and Japanese, both for free and with a charge for longer comments. An Android version will also be launched.
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Tablet computers come of age in 2010 with iPad mania

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Agence France-Presse

AN FRANCISCO--Yearning for an Internet-linked gadget bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop merged with always-connected lifestyles to make tablet computing a defining trend for 2010.

The iPad launched in April by Apple became the must-have device of the year and has rivals intent on dethroning the culture-shifting California company before it can lock in the market the way iPods became the ruling MP3 players.

"Apple nailed it and made tablet computers a success," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. "There are going to be a lot of people trying to beat them but it will turn out like iPods; everybody wants one."

Internet Age lifestyles set the stage for the rock star debut of a tablet computer done right, according to Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

Work weeks have grown steadily longer with the proliferation of gadgets keeping people connected to bosses and offices nights and weekends.

"Consumers are working all the time, have less leisure time and less money to spend but still want to maximize enjoyment they get out of life," Rotman Epps told AFP.

"Tablets fill that demand for devices that fill those in-between moments and minimize your unconnected time," she said.

Forrester data shows that 26 percent of US consumers who bought iPads use the tablets for work as well as personal purposes.

The top spot for using an iPad is the living room, with the bedroom being the second most common, according to Forrester.

"People are using tablets to read the Wall Street Journal or watch TV in bed," Rotman Epps said. "It is replacing, in some circumstances, laptop computers, television and print media."

Apple benefited by focusing on regular people instead of businesses, adding its hip cache and having real-world stores where people could try iPads before committing to buying devices, according to Rotman Epps.

"Apple cracked the market that others had struggled with for years," said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.

Research shows that owners of the Apple tablets consume more video, news and other content online than other people do.

Some analysts expect iPad sales will blast past the 10 million mark this month, if they haven't already, and competitors are hitting the market with their own tablets or have announced plans to do so.

Samsung said its Galaxy Tab, which is powered by Google's Android software, has sold one million units, Microsoft considers tablets a "priority" and Blackberry maker Research in Motion plans one next year named the PlayBook.

Forrester predicted that by 2015, the number of US consumers using tablet computers would be 75 million: more than netbook users but less than the number of people using smartphones or laptops.

The tablet trend will put downward pressure on laptop computer prices, based on Forrester research indicating consumers think it's not worth paying a lot more to get a laptop instead of a tablet.

"Tablets really changed consumer thinking about mobile computing and the industry's thinking," said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.

Analysts said the other big consumer electronics stories of the year were the continued growth of smartphones and Microsoft's Kinect, the Xbox 360 videogame console that players control using gestures and spoken commands.

Microsoft said it sold more than 2.5 million Kinects for Xbox 360 devices worldwide in the 25 days after they hit the market.

Google, meanwhile, said more than 300,000 smartphones running its Android software are activated daily as it builds momentum in the hot mobile market.

According to research firm Gartner, Finland's Nokia sold 29.5 million smartphones during the third quarter of the year for a 36.6 percent share of the worldwide market, down from 44.6 percent a year ago.

Sales of Android-powered smartphones soared to 20.5 million units, giving the Android platform a 25.5 percent market share, up from just 3.5 percent a year ago, Gartner said.

Apple's iPhone was next on sales of 13.5 million units followed by Canada's Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, with sales of 11.9 million units and Microsoft's Windows Mobile with sales of 2.2 million units.
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Loyal YouTube users get to upload longer videos

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Agence France-Presse 

SAN FRANCISCO--Filmmakers who have played by the rules on YouTube can now post works longer than 15 minutes at the world's leading video-sharing website.

Google-owned YouTube in July raised the video-length limit to 15 minutes for all users but has sent out word that filmmakers who haven't abused copyright and other rules will be exempted from that time cap.

"Our creativity isn't bound by a time limit, so why should our video uploads be?" Google product manager Joshua Siegel and company software engineer Doug Mayle asked rhetorically in a blog post Friday.

"As long as it's your original content, it's fair game regardless of length."

The move was made possible in part by better tools for identifying copyrighted material posted on YouTube without permission from content owners, according to Siegel and Mayle.

Major US movie and music studios are among the more than 1,000 "global partners" that use a Content ID system to manage their digitized material on YouTube.

Videomakers can click an "upload" icon on YouTube to learn whether their accounts qualify to post longer works.


Google says 300,000 Android phones activated daily

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Agence France-Presse  

SAN FRANCISCO--More than 300,000 smartphones running on Google-backed Android software are activated daily, according to an engineering vice president at the Internet giant.

Andy Rubin fired off the update in a terse "tweet" at microblogging service Twitter late Wednesday.

The news indicates that Android smartphones are building momentum in the hot mobile market, where just a few months ago Google boasted that the rate of Android handset activations averaged 200,000 a day.

Google is fueling interest in Android devices with the release next week of a new champion on the mobile phone market battlefield, a "Nexus S" smartphone made by South Korea's Samsung.

The Nexus S, the successor to the Nexus One launched about a year earlier, will be the first smartphone on the market powered by the latest version of Android mobile software, "Gingerbread."

The Android mobile operating system surged past Apple's iPhone and Canada's BlackBerry in the third quarter to become the second biggest smartphone platform after Nokia's Symbian, research firm Gartner reported in November.

Gartner said Finland's Nokia sold 29.5 million smartphones during the third quarter of the year for a 36.6 percent share of the worldwide market, down from 44.6 percent a year ago.

Sales of Android-powered smartphones soared to 20.5 million units, giving the Android platform a 25.5 percent market share, up from just 3.5 percent a year ago, Gartner said.

Apple's iPhone was next on sales of 13.5 million units for a 16.7 percent market share, down from 17.1 percent a year ago.

Canada's Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, was in fourth position with sales of 11.9 million units. Its market share dropped to 14.8 percent from 20.7 percent a year ago.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile saw sales of 2.2 million units giving it a 2.8 percent market share, down from 7.9 percent a year ago, Gartner said.
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Verizon launching 4G wireless network on Sunday

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Agence France-Presse

SAN FRANCISCO--US telecom titan Verizon will launch a new generation wireless network on Sunday that delivers data as much as 10 times faster than 3G technology currently used by smartphones.

The "4G LTE" network debuting in 38 major metropolitan areas and at more than 60 airports will be aimed at business "road warriors" who want super speedy connections for laptop computers, according to Verizon.

"This next-generation network will provide speeds significantly faster than existing wireless networks," Verizon spokeswoman Debra Lewis told AFP.

"Downloading a video that takes 10 minutes now will take one minute on a 4G network."

Verizon worked with South Korean electronics firms LG and Pantech to design USB modems people can plug into laptop computers to connect to the LTE network.

The devices will be priced at 150 dollars each, with 50-dollar rebates available if people sign two-year service contracts with Verizon.

Data plan options will be to pay 50 dollars per month for a five-gigabyte allowance of data monthly or 80 dollars each month for 10 gigabytes of data, with users paying 10 dollars per gigabyte for overages.

The modems switch to 3G coverage in places where the LTE network isn't available, according to Verizon.

"Our 4G LTE launch gives customers access to the fastest and most advanced mobile network in America and immediately reaches more than one-third of all Americans right where they live," said Verizon chief executive Dan Mead.

"That's just the start. We will quickly expand 4G LTE, and by 2013 will reach the existing Verizon Wireless 3G coverage area."

Verizon expected smartphones synched to the 4G, short for "fourth generation," network to be available by the middle of next year.

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Apple's iPad goes on sale in South Korea

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Agence France-Presse

SEOUL--Apple's iPad went on sale Tuesday in South Korea, three weeks after the local giant Samsung Electronics launched its rival tablet computer the Galaxy Tab in its home market.

One hundred invited preorder customers, anxious to get their hands on the popular new gadget, lined up before dawn at a downtown Seoul branch of wireless operator KT, the sole Korean partner for iPhones and iPads.

First in line was Lee Jun-Young, 39, who slowly unwrapped the box with a wide grin on his face, then raised his iPad high above his head.

"I love it. I've waited for the iPad for such a long time," Lee, who said he also has an iPhone 4, told the newspaper Money Today. "I plan to use the iPad on my way to work and at home to study English."

KT said it had received 50,000 preorders for the iPad since November 17.

"We've started distributing it nationwide. Customers are receiving their preordered iPads at the moment," said KT spokesman Ham Young-Jin.

The company earlier announced the popular gadget would start selling at 218,000 won (192 dollars) with a two-year contract, rising to 865,000 won for models with additional features.

Samsung Electronics, the biggest rival of Apple, has already introduced its seven-inch screen Galaxy Tab in the United States and Italy and aims to sell over a million units globally by the end of this year.

Apple has sold over seven million iPads worldwide since its January debut.

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Wi-Fi lifeline reaches remote Himalayas

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Agence France-Presse

NAGI--It used to take teacher Mahabir Pun more than two days to check his email from his home in the remote Himalayan village of Nagi in western Nepal.

The 55-year-old would walk for seven hours to the nearest road before taking a three-hour bus ride along precarious mountain tracks to the only town in the area with an Internet connection.

Today, all Pun has to do is log on to the wireless network he has set up over the past few years, catapulting more than 100 impoverished villages in Nepal into the 21st century.

The technology has transformed lives in some of the most inhospitable places on earth, where there are no roads or hospitals and where most people scratch out a meagre living as subsistence farmers.

It allows communities to access vital medical expertise via videolink, stay in touch with loved-ones abroad, and even sell their yaks, goats and chickens online on www.nepalwireless.com -- a sort of e-Bay for local farmers.

"We chose areas where no commercial Internet service provider would ever go," says Pun, who estimates that around 70,000 people can access the network.

"When we started, almost no one in rural Nepal was using the Internet. Now we have connected more than 100 villages. But that is nothing, there are thousands more villages like these in Nepal."

It all started when Pun travelled to the United States in the 1990s to study for a masters degree. The Internet was just becoming popular, and one of his professors suggested they set up a web site for his home village.

It was one of the first Internet sites to mention Nepal, and by the time he returned home, Pun was being bombarded by messages from people around the world who wanted to visit the 800-strong mountain community.

"At that time, not even businesses in (the capital) Kathmandu had websites, but Nagi did," he told AFP in his native village, 2,200 metres (7,200 feet) up in the Himalayas.

"I was getting emails from all sorts of people including doctors and college professors, and they all wanted to know what they could do to help our village. So I invited them to come and volunteer."

Pun decided his students should learn about this emerging new technology, but the school could not afford to buy a computer. So he asked everyone who came to bring a component, and set about teaching himself to build one.

He organised a collection centre in the backpacker district of Kathmandu, and managed to put together around a dozen makeshift computers, building them in wooden crates and distributing them to schools in the area.

But it was not until 2002 that, with the help of volunteer students, a plan was formed to hook up the village to the Internet using a wi-fi connection from the nearest major town, Pokhara.

There were myriad challenges. No one had ever tried to build a wi-fi network at such a high altitude before, and a series of relay towers had to be built to beam the signal through the narrow valleys.

All the construction materials had to be carried up the mountain by hand along with the solar panels needed for power. The highest stands at 3,600 metres, and is manned by a yak farmer who has to check the connections daily.

Mains electricity had still not reached any of the villages, and to make things even more difficult, Nepal was in the grip of a bloody Maoist insurgency and Nagi had fallen completely under the control of the leftist guerrillas.

"The Maoists had eyes everywhere. They used to come and ask lots of questions, but they didn't know much about the Internet," says Pun.

"All the parts we used were totally illegal. If the army had come here more frequently, they would have put a stop to it."

Once again, Pun asked his foreign volunteers to bring what they could to help -- customs officials, he reasoned, would be unlikely to suspect Western backpackers of smuggling in contraband communications equipment.

Nagi was the first village to be connected, and by September 2003, five villages in Myagdi district, around 200 miles (300 kilometres) north-west of Kathmandu, were accessing the network.

Now, Pun operates two networks that connect more than 100 villages to the Internet -- a significant achievement in a country where just 6.3 percent of people have online access.

In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay prize -- widely viewed as the Asian equivalent of the Nobel -- for community leadership.

But he is determined to avoid the world of "conferences, resolutions and commitments," and has said he only accepted because the $50,000 prize could help put more villages online.

To keep costs down, Pun travels around the country by public bus and works from a tiny office in his family home.

The local Internet service provider charges a discounted rate of 45,000 rupees ($640) a month for the connection, with the cost shared between dozens of villages in the area.

In Nagi, they have set up a paper-making business to raise funds, and Pun is working with the government to create a new trekking route he hopes will bring much-needed tourist dollars to the villages.

In the packed computer room at Nagi school, the impact on the community is clear.

At one terminal sits 63-year-old Amar Pun whose three children, like many Nepalese, have moved abroad, unable to find work in their home country.

"They send news of their lives by email and I send back news of the village. It feels great to be in touch, I love hearing from them," he says.

Teenagers chat on Facebook to friends in neighbouring villages, watch Nepalese pop music on YouTube and look up the latest gossip on their favourite football players.

In the village clinic, health worker Rupa Pun connects every morning to a Kathmandu hospital using a webcam, allowing patients to be seen by doctors hundreds of miles away.

"It used to take sick patients two days to get down into the valley for treatment. They had to be carried in a basket or on a makeshift stretcher," she says.

"Before, we could only treat minor illnesses here. Now the doctor can give his diagnosis and send the right drugs up here if we don't already have them. It has made a huge difference to our lives."

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