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Mobile Technology News, February 20, 2014

As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

  • Canonical CEO claims Apple cornered market on sapphire screens
    Ubuntu developer Canonical has told investors and analysts in a conference call that part of the reason it had been unable to produce a planned 4.5-inch smartphone running the Linux-based OS was because (in addition to financial issues) Apple had “scooped up” the entire three-year supply” of sapphire screens the company had planned to use. While not a confirmation that Apple plans to create a 4.5-inch display in a future iPhone, the quote seems to reaffirm that Apple is planning to incorporate the practically-unscratchable material in its future products.

        



  • Facebook Buys WhatsApp and It Will Be Huge for Them

    The first headline that hit me today when I turned on my iPad was from the Wall Street Journal proclaiming Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19b.  It’s a big, big number but the acquisition could prove to be a pivotal point for Facebook and the landscape of social networking in general.  The deal is a […]

    The post Facebook Buys WhatsApp and It Will Be Huge for Them appeared first on AlliOSNews.

  • Signs point to first Microsoft Surface tablet with LTE
    Microsoft may be getting ready to add 4G/LTE to a Surface product. To date, Surface tablets have only come with Wi-Fi, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with rival products like the iPad.
  • Homeland Security Drops Plan To Collect License Tag Data
    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department abruptly reversed course Wednesday and dropped plans to ask a private company to give the government access to a nationwide database of license plate tracking information.

    Secretary Jeh Johnson directed that a contract proposal issued last week be canceled. The proposal said Immigration and Customs Enforcement was planning to use the license plate data in pursuit of criminal immigrants and others sought by authorities.

    Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said the contract solicitation was posted “without the awareness of ICE leadership.”

    “While we continue to support a range of technologies to help meet our law enforcement mission, this solicitation will be reviewed to ensure the path forward appropriately meets our operational needs,” Christensen said.

    The department said Johnson has ordered a review of the proposal.

    The contract notice came amid growing concerns about government surveillance of U.S. citizens but didn’t address potential privacy consequences.

    Before the notice was canceled, Christensen said the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals.”

    Law enforcement has been using license plate readers for several years, but privacy advocates have raised concerns that the unchecked collection of such information could allow for the tracking of an average citizen’s every movement. Lawmakers around the country, meanwhile, have been wrestling with whether or how to control the collection and use of license plate data.

    At least 14 states are considering measures that would curb surveillance efforts, including the use of license plate readers.

    License plate readers — essentially cameras that snap rapid-fire pictures of license plates and vehicles as they pass — are in use in a host of locations, by private companies and law enforcement. But it’s not just the license plate number that gets recorded. The readers — whether they are mounted to police cars, traffic lights or toll booths — record the date, time and location of the vehicle when the picture was taken.

    According to the contract proposal, the government wanted “a close-up of the plate and a zoomed out image of the vehicle.”

    The Homeland Security Department also wanted instant and around-the-clock access to the records and is asking for whoever wins the contract to make the information available through a smartphone app. It is not clear from the contract notice how long individual records would be kept or what other government agencies may have access to the trove of records.

    Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said those unknowns represented serious privacy concerns.

    “The base level concern is that license plate data is location data, and location data is very revealing,” Lynch said. “It can tell you a lot about a person’s life: where they go, who they associate with, what kind of religion they practice, what doctors they visit.”

    In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the collection of license plate scanner data and warned that millions of records were being collected with little or no safeguards for people’s privacy.

    Catherine Crump, an ACLU lawyer, said Wednesday she was pleased to hear that the department has canceled the contract proposal but still worried about that it might be brought back to life at some point.

    “While we are heartened that it looks as though the plan is off the table for now; it is still unexplained why the proposal was put forward and why it has been withdrawn,” Crump said.

    The government’s contract proposal was published amid revelations of surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Privacy advocates have argued that NSA phone data collection programs and other surveillance programs are gobbling up massive amounts of information about U.S. citizens who have no ties to criminals or terrorists, which the government has said the programs are designed to target.

    Classified NSA documents, leaked to news organizations, showed the NSA was collecting telephone records, emails and video chats of millions of Americans who were not suspected of a crime.

    ___

    Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap

  • Facebook to buy WhatsApp for $19bn
    Facebook buys popular messaging app WhatsApp for $19bn (£11.4bn), in a deal Mark Zuckerberg describes as “incredibly valuable”.
  • University Of Maryland Reports Massive Data Breach
    COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The president of the University of Maryland says there has been a breach of a database that contains personal information about more than 300,000 faculty, staff, students, and others.

    Wallace Loh said in a statement posted Wednesday on the university’s website that the database contained records of those who have been issued a university ID since 1998.

    Loh said the database has information from the College Park and Shady Grove campuses. The records include names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and university identification numbers.

    The university is working to determine how the breach occurred. Loh said state and federal law enforcement officials are investigating.

    The University is offering one year of free credit monitoring to anyone affected by the breach.

  • Intel CEO talks Apple, water-cooled PCs, carbon nanotubes
    Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, in a wide-ranging Reddit AMA, addresses Moore’s Law, tablets, overclocking, and carbon nanotubes, among other topics.
  • WhatsApp and Facebook's Unite and Conquer Mission
    The news that Facebook will spend $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app with more than 450 million users, marks the latest phase in what has emerged as Facebook’s defining strategy: The unite and conquer approach to social networking.

    Facebook is no longer focused solely on building out Facebook, but is willing to meld itself into whatever shape, service or brand fits your socializing needs at a particular moment of your day. To expand its empire and place itself wherever we are, it’ll spend dearly to buy whatever diverse services we value.

    For several years now, Facebook has tried to position itself as the go-to messenger for every message we send, publicly or privately, baiting us with features like “chat heads” or the ability to send voice recordings. Buying WhatsApp, which processes 19 billion messages a day, clearly goes a long way toward fulfilling that mission. As soon as all the CEOs and lawyers sign on the doted line, nearly a half-billion people who were messaging off of Facebook will instantly begin routing their chats through Mark Zuckerberg’s domain.

    But beyond that, Facebook’s WhatsApp deal makes it clear that Facebook isn’t content to be Facebook. Facebook wants to be the hub for any social interaction you have over the Internet — alone or in groups, broadcast or whispered, permanent or self-destructing, written or photographed, under the Facebook logo or a different mascot. The WhatsApp acquisition, which follows on Facebook’s Instagram buy and its failed bid for Snapchat, suggest more than an effort to find the “next big thing” and cultivate it under Facebook’s wing. Facebook wants whatever is the new big thing. (Like Instagram, Facebook confirmed that it will continue to run WhatsApp as a standalone app.)

    “If you think about the overall space of sharing and communication, there’s not just one thing that people are doing. People want to have the ability to share any kind of content with any audience,” Zuckerberg said in an earnings call last month. “There are going to be a lot of different apps that exist, and Facebook has always had the mission of helping people share any kind of content with any audience, but historically we’ve done that through a single app.”

    We’ve thought of Facebook’s growing ecosystem of services as revolving around and expanding the core Facebook experience. We’re thinking too small. Zuckerberg is dreaming of an even larger universe of services that aren’t tied to Facebooking, but communicating — full stop.

    This has obvious advantages for Facebook’s business. A broader suite of services means bringing on more users (WhatsApp is particularly popular outside the U.S.), claiming more of people’s time and sucking up more of their information, all of which helps Facebook woo advertisers.

    But what about for those of us who use the services? It feels harder and harder to escape Facebook’s reach while still being social online. While the WhatsApp acquisition will no doubt stoke privacy fears, there’s another, less-discussed consequence of this unite and conquer approach: The rapid spread of the Facebook ethos, which values true identities, oversharing and the vague goal of “connecting” above all. Instagram looks a great deal like it did before Facebook acquired the app. But even there, there are subtle changes, like the push to tag friends in photos.

    The principles and values that Facebook holds dear are becoming harder to escape as it exports them to whatever new satellite it brings into its orbit. Our online identities are part of the unite and conquer push: Whenever possible, Facebook prefers to combine our online activity to create one comprehensive, exhaustive persona.

  • WhatsApp's CEO Crashed Zuckerberg's Valentine's Dinner To Make A Deal
    On Wednesday, Facebook announced a huge, $19 billion deal to buy the messaging app WhatsApp.

    But that staggering sum wasn’t the only thing about the acquisition that’s shocking.

    After Mark Zuckerberg made him an offer on Feb. 9, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum apparently crashed the Valentine’s Day dinner of the recently married Facebook co-founder and his wife, Priscilla Chan, at their home to finalize the purchase.

    That’s not all.

    “The two men entered into negotiations, eating a plate of chocolate covered strawberries intended for Ms. Chan, the people briefed on the matter said,” The Times reports. Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson confirmed the strawberry swipe in his account, too.

    Not only did Koum get the money, he also got their strawberries. What likely started out as a romantic night for Zuckerberg and his wife ended up with Zuckerberg agreeing to hand over $19 billion.

    We’ll bet that Koum had the best Valentine’s Day of them all.

  • Trying To Meet A Guy Online? Apparently, You Shouldn't Call Yourself A 'Woman'
    When Britney Spears crooned “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman,” she probably didn’t know that the virtual dating landscape would favor the former. If we weren’t already bombarded with unsolicited prescriptions for how to behave online, now we’re supposed to consider whether calling ourselves “women” is worth the opportunity costs.

    Apparently, referring to yourself as a “girl” instead of a “woman” in your online dating profile will get you more male suitors.

    This helpful information comes from an infographics series published on Wired earlier this month, which focused on what words earn online daters the most attention. Researchers collected data across OKCupid and Match.com.

    womengirlsdating

    According to the findings, females who refer to themselves as “girls” receive 16 percent more attention than those who refer to themselves as “women” in their profiles. Meanwhile, it is 28 percent better for men to refer to a member of the opposite sex as a “woman” than a “girl.” So it’s super sexy and evolved for men to call us women, but off-putting for a lady to refer to herself as such.

    What if grown-ass women went around saying they were looking for “boys”? They would be universally considered creepy, if not predatory. Perhaps men find self-professed “women” threatening? Sigh. We know they’ll catch up someday.

    As per usual, these statistics offer some interesting insight into how courtship is performed in the 21st century. But do we actually care about a 16-point potential loss for properly labeling ourselves? Not really. We’ll stick with Bey on this one.

    wiredinfographic

    [h/t Slate]

  • Inspiring Our Children to Pursue STEM Through the Olympics
    The world’s top athletes are competing at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Their talents and abilities are truly amazing. Their preparation and dedication to their sport and their country are inspiring. No doubt, millions of children watch these athletes with similar dreams of achieving athletic excellence. But as I previously wrote, the likelihood that any child will reach the pinnacle of sports is slim. However, there is great opportunity for our athletically passionate students to continue their love of sports through their careers. The fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) have as much to do with athletics as the athletes themselves, and the Olympics show us just how much STEM goes into making our athletes, and the fields they compete on, ready for competition.

    From the half pipe to the ice rink and the snowboard to the speed skating suit, STEM experts make the 2014 Winter Games possible. Each Olympic season is better than the one before it — the events are safer, the Olympians are faster, and the techniques are more precise. Material scientists and chemical engineers are key to the innovations that allow our athletes to perform at the top of their game. They create the equipment our athletes use continues to get better, faster, stronger, more flexible and more durable. Material scientists and chemical engineers are the brains behind are skis and snowboards. They design them to withstand high speeds, vibration and torsion. Whether the athlete competes in the downhill or the slalom, the ski must be tailored to the particular sport. The skates used by speed skaters, figure skaters and hockey players are each different, and have evolved over time to allow the athletes to turn tight corners at full speed, perform a triple axel, or turn instantly in pursuit of a puck.

    The clothing worn by our athletes is just as intricately designed and manufactured. To go faster, Olympians must dawn revolutionary suits made of special materials invented and designed by top scientists and engineers. The suits worn by speed skaters, for example, must counteract drag and take factors like wind resistance and air flow into account. But for athletes like ski jumpers, their suits must capture air to keep them lifted for as long as possible.

    Engineers also play a vital role in the stadiums, arenas and venues in which our athletes perform. The half pipe in Sochi is taller, longer and larger in radius than any previous Olympic half pipe. The increased size lets the snowboarders get higher, turn faster and perform stunning tricks. Engineers considered the laws of gravity and used their knowledge of energy, velocity and momentum to create a half pipe that allows athletes to perform 1440 degree twists. What our students learn in high school physics class are the very principles at play here. The taller the pipe, the larger the walls and the more gravitational energy athletes experience, giving them the ability to lift higher. The larger the radius of the pipe, the easier the athlete can deal with the considerable force experienced from gravity and friction.

    Consider Shaun White and the half pipe. White experiences two to five times his own weight in G-forces from the friction of the snow on his board. He pushes back against those G-forces through his calculated performance, maintaining the perfect balance on his snowboard as he does so. As he moves up the pipe, he builds kinetic energy, and at the height, the kinetic energy is converted to potential energy, which allows him to move faster down the pipe and back up the other side. All of this energy creates momentum that allows him to perform the fascinating twists and tricks for which he’s known. Without engineers perfecting and continuously improving the venues and equipment, these new gravity-defying jumps and tricks would not be possible.

    But to perfectly execute those tricks, the athlete and his or her coaches and trainers must be knowledgeable in STEM as well. For example, to engineer the perfect jump, figure skaters must consider and routinely adapt to changes in angular velocity, height, speed and momentum. A triple axel toe loop looks effortless, but it’s not without careful planning, precision and STEM.

    STEM is the foundation of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Engineers and scientists are responsible for the innovative technologies that continually produce new and improved equipment. Computer programmers and digital electronic manufacturers must create precise timing devices that measure the one-thousandth of a second that may be the difference between an Olympic gold and disappointment. Doctors, trainers and scientists each have a role in the training, muscle recovery, injury prevention and healing that our athletes need to perform at the top of their games.

    Athletics are important in our culture and in teaching our children life lessons and skills. So we tell our children to pursue their passions, but we should also tell them about the exciting career possibilities created by studying the STEM disciplines — jobs that will allow them to continue being involved in their passions. And while they may never be the 1500-meter speed skating World Champion, they might be the next inventor of the fastest speed suit in the world.

    Project Lead The Way is the nation’s leading provider of STEM education programs for students in elementary, middle and high school. Through world-class curriculum, high-quality teacher professional development, and a network of business and educational leaders, PLTW is preparing students for the global economy.

  • IKEA Discontinues Beloved Shelf, Prompts Internet Fury
    IKEA thought it could discontinue a shelf popular with record collectors without causing much commotion. Now it has to face the music.

    IKEA plans to stop selling its iconic “EXPEDIT” shelf and replace it with a different wall unit, IKEA spokesperson Janice Simonsen told the Huffington Post.

    That news, first mentioned on IKEA Germany’s Facebook page, has set off an Internet cacophony, fueled mostly by vinyl record collectors, who say that the EXPEDIT has been the perfect shelf for storing records (among other things) for over a generation.

    “Enter the house of any record collector in the world and the chances are you’ll stumble upon an Expedit shelf,” wrote Vinyl Factory, a British music company.

    German vinyl-lovers have launched a Facebook campaign, “Rettet das Ikea Expedit Regal” (Save the IKEA Expedit bookshelf), which has already garnered more than 16,000 likes. An American version of the page launched on February 18th.

    IKEA will replace EXPEDIT with a similar shelf called the KALLAX, which Simonsen said “has the same internal sizes and uses the same internal fittings.” It will also have rounded edges to be more child-friendly.

    IKEA will sell EXPEDIT shelves until they’re all gone, it confirmed, and the KALLAX will hit stores on April 1st.

    “I think our customers may be worried that they won’t have the wonderful function and flexibility that they had with EXPEDIT, but this is not the case,” said Simonsen.

    On message boards and social media, fans are expressing worries that the KALLAX will be less sturdy and not available in some of the same sizes as EXPEDIT.

    Despite the fact that the KALLAX does seem awfully similar to the EXPEDIT, thousands of the distressed are still venting on Twitter. Most of the mourning tweets are in German and French, but here are some English-language highlights of The Great EXPEDIT Panic of 2014:

    I think I’m having a panic attack. MUST. GO. STOCK. UP. RT @core77 IKEA to Discontinue the Expedit

    — Edward M. Bujanowski (@edwardmichael) February 19, 2014

    Ikea discontinuing Expedit: estimates millions of relationships saved due to fewer assembly fights. http://t.co/tdzDXUxxnx

    — David Hicks (@ALL_CAPS) February 19, 2014

    Let’s pray to the IKEA gods that this Expedit wipe out doesn’t spread to the Americas. http://t.co/XD1fFrMqNQ via @cestuncoupdetat

    — Christine Varriale (@certaintragedy) February 19, 2014

    Vinyl nerds descend on Ikea to purchase all the endangered Expedit pieces. #hipsterapocalypse

    — Melissa Bernais (@melissabernais) February 19, 2014

    @The405: IKEA to discontinue Expedit shelves = worst. decision. ever. http://t.co/wJAYZGIXc7@jodapersoda aargh! Literal disaster

    — J.M.O. (@Johnwantstea) February 19, 2014

    Can’t wait for the 25th anniversary deluxe reissue of Ikea’s Expedit. #angryrecordstoreclerk

    — Jeff Conklin (@avantghettonyc) February 19, 2014

    Goodbye, @DesignByIKEA Expedit. I’ll never stop loving you.
    http://t.co/XfntYSW5LV

    — Matt Gill (@hcmg) February 19, 2014

  • Just How Dangerous Is A Giant Comcast?
    It’s been more than 100 years since the U.S. Supreme Court determined that one of the biggest companies in the world, Standard Oil, was an illegal monopoly and would have to be broken apart.

    The size of the company didn’t automatically violate antitrust law, the court ruled. Rather, it was the way it wielded that size that was a problem. The oil behemoth forced railroads to slash prices and agree to preferential deals to ship its products, driving smaller competitors out of business. Standard Oil came to control 90 percent of U.S. oil production through these methods, and the court determined that this led to higher prices and less oil, harming the overall market.

    The antitrust laws the court used to decide the century-old case will be tested again in coming months, as regulators take a close look at Comcast’s $45 billion offer to acquire its smaller rival Time Warner Cable. The deal would make Comcast, the largest cable company in the country, even bigger. The new communications giant would also control broadcast and cable television networks, movie studios and theme parks that Comcast has swept up in past acquisitions.

    “It just creates this massive player — this one entity that sits at the crossroads of everything,” Michael Weinberg, a vice president at Public Knowledge, said in an interview last week. “They don’t just dabble in it. They dominate it.”

    Comcast is not Standard Oil — it isn’t accused of sending thugs to intimidate rivals, for example, as Standard Oil’s founder John D. Rockefeller is alleged to have done — but there are enough similarities between the companies to give consumer activists, and potentially regulators, cause for concern.

    Like Standard Oil, which began as a small Ohio concern, Comcast emerged from obscurity to dominate its industry. In 1990, Comcast was a Pennsylvania company with $657 million in annual revenue. In the years since, under the leadership of CEO Brian Roberts, the company has swallowed cable providers and TV networks, among other businesses, around the country, and revenue has swelled to more than $64 billion.

    In some of the markets in which it operates, Comcast is the only entity that offers cable and broadband service, to the great frustration of many customers who say this veritable monopoly starves them of choice, and leads to higher prices. The Time Warner Cable acquisition would further expand the company’s reach — Comcast would have about a third of broadband subscribers and 30 million pay TV subscribers in the U.S.

    A Comcast-Time Warner Cable behemoth could use its muscle — not unlike Standard Oil — to wield power over related industries, potentially starving competitors of resources, antitrust experts said.

    A stronger Comcast could charge higher rates to deliver streaming video from companies like Apple, Netflix, YouTube or Amazon, though it pledged to hold off on doing so until at least 2018 under its agreement to acquire NBCUniversal. TV networks may also be afraid to strike deals to sell their shows to online streaming services out of fear Comcast would retaliate by giving them unfavorable positions in Comcast’s TV channel lineup.

    Content creators just couldn’t afford not to do business with a company as powerful and far-reaching as a Comcast-Time Warner Cable giant, Weinberg said.

    Antitrust lawyers say the Comcast buyout poses a deep challenge for the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, the two federal agencies that enforce antitrust law and will decide if the deal can proceed.

    The Standard Oil case, by today’s standards, was cut and dry. In the early years of the 20th century, a muckraking journalist wrote an exposé on how the company used its massive clout to bully railroads and pipeline companies into lowering prices, then undercut competitors to such a degree they were forced to sell out, or go under. In one instance, Rockefeller used the threat of a secret alliance with railroads to intimidate more than 20 Cleveland refiners to sell out to Standard Oil at bargain prices, an event known as the “Cleveland massacre.”

    The Justice Department then launched an investigation under newfound authority granted by the Sherman Act, an antitrust law passed in 1890 to broad acclaim.

    Antitrust reviews have expanded over the years to include deals that would combine two or more existing companies, with the goal stopping monopolies before they happen. The measuring stick authorities use is whether the formation of the new company would “substantially lessen competition.”

    This is something of a soothsaying exercise, said antitrust experts.

    “They are trying to predict the likely effect of something that hasn’t happened yet,” said Spencer Waller, the head of the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies at Loyola University in Chicago.

    This task is made more difficult by the special circumstances posed by the Comcast deal. Unlike most mergers and buyouts, such as the proposed takeover of T-Mobile by Sprint that the Justice Department has signaled it will oppose, Comcast and Time Warner Cable don’t compete head-to-head in any market.

    Comcast has also said that the combined company’s cable TV customers will represent 30 percent or less of the market. That is the maximum market share allowed under an older Federal Communications Commission rule, which is no longer in place. In 2009, it was struck down by an appeals court, which declared it “arbitrary and capricious.”

    Sena Fitzmaurice, a vice president of government affairs at Comcast, said that existing Time Warner Cable customers would benefit from Comcast’s innovations. As examples of past efforts, she cited the company’s robust video-on-demand service and said Comcast has increased broadband internet speed 12 times in as many years.

    “Additional consumers would get to benefit from these innovations as a result of the transaction,” she said in an email to The Huffington Post.

    A new megacompany would have powerful control over the cable grid and over content providers, Waller said. “This is very troubling,” he said — but also very difficult for federal authorities to evaluate.

    Comcast is certain to argue that its competitors encompass far more entities than traditional cable providers. As evidence of that, the company can point to the national trend of declining cable subscriber rates, which many attribute to increased competition from satellite providers like DirectTV, from streaming video companies and even from Internet portals like Google.

    This is boilerplate merger and acquisitions strategy, Waller said. Companies that seek to expand their holdings typically argue that they face competition from as wide array of entities as possible.

    But that argument is not airtight. The companies Comcast mentions as potential competitors do not yet offer near the breadth of services sold by the company, even in its present form. Sports coverage is a prime example. Comcast owns NBC, which paid $4.4 billion to broadcast the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi and three subsequent Olympics. By way of comparison, that is a significantly greater sum than Netflix plans to allocate for its entire 2014 programming budget.

    It will be up to the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission to determine whether given these market realities, existing competitors offer services that are reasonable substitutes, said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust law professor at the University of Iowa. “Substitutes have to be sufficiently robust to keep services down near cost,” he said.

    In Comcast’s favor, as it makes its case, is an unbroken track record of success before regulators, most notably its 2009 acquisition of NBC Universal. “I think their experience with getting previous deals through, particularly the NBCU takeover, has to be helpful,” Stifel Nicolaus analyst David Kaut told the Wall Street Journal last week. “They know the ropes. And they seem to do a good job of getting out in front of some of the antitrust/regulatory objections by offering commitments that soften up the resistance.”

    Comcast, for its part, has cast the combination of the two companies as favoring consumers. “It will provide exciting consumer benefits” and “deliver better services and technology to Time Warner Cable’s subscribers,” the company said.

    Comcast CEO Brian Roberts even deemed the acquisition “pro-consumer,” “pro-competitive,” and “in the public’s interest.”

    But to many current subscribers, these claims are hard to swallow. The company charged roughly $156 per month per customer last year, and cable companies consistently rank at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys. The average cable TV bill — not including taxes, fees or promotions — has increased 97 percent over the past 14 years, according to SNL Kagan, a media research firm.

    High prices, ultimately, are what led to Standard Oil’s demise. The movement that led to the investigation was sparked by farmers, who were outraged by the huge cost they had to pay to get their crops to market.

    Antitrust experts said regulators will try to gauge whether a combined Comcast and Time Warner Cable would face enough competition to keep prices in check.

    Last week, in a conference call with reporters, Comcast Vice President David Cohen fielded a question about what the Time Warner Cable buyout might mean for cable and Internet bills. “The impact on customer bills is always hard to quantify,” he responded. “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly.”

  • This Is Why It Was So Insanely Cold Last Month
    That incredibly cold, it-hurts-to-be-outside weather that much of the U.S. experienced last month may come back to bite the country again next week.

    So what’s causing these temperature extremes?

    The polar vortex is a mass of winds that form over the Arctic each winter, and tend to move in a circular motion around the region, according to NASA. This year, however, a few factors caused the vortex to dip south, like the jet stream moving further south than usual and a low-pressure system forming over Canada, according to the video.

    As this animation progresses from early December 2013 to early January 2014, you can watch the polar vortex — represented by the purple colors — bend southward over time. It features data collected by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder Mission instrument, and shows temperatures at 3,000 feet above the Earth’s surface.

    As NASA points out on their website, this year’s cold wave set many temperature records. And that wasn’t all: flights were canceled, Canada experienced frost quakes and a jail escapee returned to prison because it was so cold.

  • Homeland Security Department Wants Access To License Plate Data
    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department is proposing that a private company give it access to a nationwide database of license plate tracking information, according to a federal contract proposal.

    The department said the database would be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help track down criminal immigrants or others wanted by authorities. The contract notice, published last week, comes amid growing concerns about government surveillance of U.S. citizens but doesn’t address potential privacy consequences. ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said Wednesday the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals.”

    Law enforcement has been using license plate readers for several years, but privacy advocates have raised concerns that the unchecked collection of such information could allow for the tracking of an average citizen’s every movement. Lawmakers around the country, meanwhile, have been wrestling with whether or how to control the collection and use of license plate data.

    At least 14 states are considering measures that would curb surveillance efforts, including the use of license plate readers.

    License plate readers — essentially cameras that snap rapid-fire pictures of license plates and vehicles as they pass — are in use in a host of locations, by private companies and law enforcement. But it’s not just the license plate number that gets recorded. The readers — whether they are mounted to police cars, traffic lights or toll booths — record the date, time and location of the vehicle when the picture was taken.

    According to the contract proposal, the government wants “a close-up of the plate and a zoomed out image of the vehicle.”

    The Homeland Security Department also wants instant and around-the-clock access to the records and is asking for whoever wins the contract to make the information available through a smartphone app. It is not clear from the contract notice how long individual records would be kept or what other government agencies may have access to the trove of records.

    Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said those unknowns represent serious privacy concerns.

    “The base level concern is that license plate data is location data, and location data is very revealing,” Lynch said. “It can tell you a lot about a person’s life: where they go, who they associate with, what kind of religion they practice, what doctors they visit.”

    In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the collection of license plate scanner data and warned that millions of records were being collected with little or no safeguards for people’s privacy.

    Lynch said contract proposal is also so broad it’s worrisome because of the volume of records that could accessed by the government.

    “We’ve seen that some of these vendors have databases of millions, it not billions, of plates,” Lynch said.

    The government’s contract proposal comes amid revelations of surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Privacy advocates have argued that NSA phone data collection programs and other surveillance programs are gobbling up massive amounts of information about U.S. citizens who have no ties to criminals or terrorists, which the government has said the programs are designed to target.

    Classified NSA documents, leaked to news organizations, showed the NSA was collecting telephone records, emails and video chats of millions of Americans who were not suspected of a crime.

    ___

    Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap

  • Facebook To Buy WhatsApp For $19 Billion
    If Facebook can’t have Snapchat, it’ll reach deep into its pockets to buy the next best thing.

    Late Wednesday, Facebook announced that it will buy the popular instant-messaging app WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion sum — $4 billion in cash and approximately $12 billion in stocks upfront, plus another $3 billion in restricted stock over the next four years.

    Facebook has shown a keen interest in developing or, with its $173 billion valuation, outright buying mobile messaging apps. Last year, Snapchat, a 2-year-old app that allows people to send disappearing photos and videos to one another, rebuffed a $3 billion offer from the social network.

    But the 5-year-old WhatsApp is far more established, and has fetched its owners a far greater sum. This month, it had 450 million monthly users, having added 100 million of them in the last four months of 2013 alone.

    WhatsApp is essentially a replacement to traditional text messaging. But unlike costly texts, which eat into cell phone owners’ data plans, WhatsApps messages are sent over the Internet if connected to WiFi

    “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “We do this by building services that help people share any type of content with any group of people they want.”

    “More than 1 million people sign up for WhatsApp every day and it is on its way to connecting one billion people,” he added.

    Zuckerberg promised that WhatsApp will operate independently within Facebook, similar to how the photo-sharing app Instagram has been kept separate from Facebook proper after it was acquired for $1 billion in 2012. The social network has its own well-used messaging app, called Facebook Messenger, that Facebook has pushed its members to download over the past year. Zuckerberg said that Messenger and WhatsApp will not be merged.

    Aside from Messenger, Facebook’s efforts to grow in messaging have fallen flat. Poke, a Snapchat clone that also lets people send disappearing messages, failed to gain traction when released at the end of 2012. Instagram Direct, a recently introduced and widely touted Instagram feature lets people privately share photos, also doesn’t seem to be well used.

    So far, WhatsApp has forgone ads and instead made money by charging 99 cents to cell owners after 12 months of use. The app is initially free to download and is popular among young people who want to send photos and texts to friends abroad without being hit with high international data fees. The subscription fee is new territory for Facebook, which over its decade-long existence has reiterated again and again on its homepage that it is “free and always will be.”

    In a blog post, co-founder and CEO Jan Koum, who founded WhatsApp with fellow former Yahoo executive Brian Acton in 2009, insisted that “nothing” will change for customers. That includes ads: “you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication,” he wrote. “There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles.”

    CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the day of the acquisition announcement.

  • Mothers' Voices Could Be The Extra Push Preemies Need To Feed (STUDY)

    BY KATHRYN DOYLE
    NEW YORK Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:50am EST

    (Reuters Health) – A pacifier-activated recording of mother singing may improve a premature baby’s feeding, which in turn could lead to its leaving the hospital sooner, according to a new study.

    One reason premature babies sometimes have to stay in the hospital for a while is that they haven’t developed the strength and coordination to nurse properly. Babies who can’t feed yet stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and rely on a feeding tube.

    Doctors and nurses usually give those babies a pacifier whenever possible to help them practice sucking, which can speed up the learning process and shorten their hospital stay.

    From previous studies, researchers know that infants also respond well to certain types of music and that their mother’s voice can help increase heart and lung stability and growth and improve sleep.

    “People are finding out that the influence of parental voice in the NICU is important, so these results are not surprising,” said senior author Dr. Nathalie Maitre of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.

    “This is yet another example that parents really do make a difference to their babies’ development,” she said.

    The researchers studied about 100 premature babies who had been born between 34 and 36 weeks of development and were relying primarily on a feeding tube (babies are considered full term if they are born between 39 and 41 weeks).

    All infants got what babies usually get in the NICU, including pacifiers, skin-to-skin contact whenever possible and gradual introduction to breastfeeding.

    Half of the infants also received five daily 15-minute sessions with a special pacifier device that senses when the baby is sucking and plays a recording of the baby’s mother singing “Hush Little Baby.”

    Infants in both groups gained about the same amount of weight during the five-day study, but those with the special pacifiers tended to eat faster when they could. They took in 2 milliliters of fortified breast milk per minute compared to less than 1 milliliter in the comparison group by the end of the study, the researchers reported Monday in Pediatrics.

    Infants in the recording group were also able to eat without a feeding tube more often – six and a half times per day versus four times in the comparison group – and ate almost twice as much when they did.

    In the pacifier recording group, infants spent an average of 31 days using a feeding tube, compared to 38 days in the non-recording group.

    Shorter hospital stays for preemies can have many benefits, said Jayne M. Standley, the inventor of the pacifier-activated music device, called the “PAL,” used in the study.

    “Premature infants thrive in the home with earlier discharge, parents are relieved to have their babies home from the hospital as soon as possible, and medical costs are greatly reduced,” Standley told Reuters Health in an email. “This study has implications to change NICU treatment for feeding problems of premature infants.”

    Standley, from Florida State University in Tallahassee, didn’t participate in the new research.

    “We know that newborn infants can recognize their mother’s voice because they can hear it in the womb and have ample opportunity to learn what it sounds like,” said Amy Needham, who studies infant development at Vanderbilt University.

    “Hearing their mother’s voice when they suck properly on the pacifier helps them develop proper sucking behavior because the mother’s voice acts as a ‘reinforcer,'” said Needham, who was not involved in the study.

    Maitre had theorized that certain types of carefully chosen music and a mother’s voice are both preferred for sucking, and that a tool that uses both might train babies to eat faster.

    “It goes back to Pavlov’s dog,” she said. “It’s not romantic, but you can take advantage of behavioral training.”

    The pacifier device she and her colleagues used measures the pressure and rhythm of sucking. It can’t be constructed and needs to be administered by a professional, Maitre said, but it is commercially available and not very expensive. The researchers also had a music therapist select the lullaby, whose melody had to stay within one octave and be very repetitive.

    Parents might ask if there is a therapist at the hospital who can help record their voice and play it to their baby, since most therapists can be trained to do this, she said.

    Meanwhile, parents should know that spending time talking and singing to their baby can help.

    “You can start by singing to your baby. During breastfeeding is a perfect time to do it,” Maitre said.

    SOURCE: bit.ly/NZ2FIT Pediatrics, online February 17, 2014.

    Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

  • Plane Windows Are SO Last Century; Video Screens Are Where It's At
    Windows are so passe.

    The Spike Aerospace S-512 will forgo the typical, tiny porthole windows and will sport giant displays that cover the supersonic jet’s interior walls.

    A spokesperson for Boston-based aerospace engineering and consulting firm Spike Aerospace informed The Huffington Post that the S-512 is expected to cost between $60 million and $80 million and that the jet is being designed to reach a cruising speed of Mach 1.6 (approximately 1,217 mph) and a max speed of Mach 1.8 (approximately 1,370 mph). The S-512 is slated for delivery to customers in December 2018.

    jet

    The company writes on its website that it expects initial purchasers of the plane to be businesses that can benefit from the jet’s shortened travel times, allowing employees to spend less time in the air and more time conducting business on the ground. Wired notes that the S-512’s speed will allow the plane to make the trip from New York to London in “less than four hours.”

    All the while, passengers will be able to view the environment surrounding the supersonic jet on giant screens playing a live feed from exterior-mounted cameras. Spike Aerospace told HuffPost that the screens can also display other media, such as movies.

    The company wrote in a blog post that it ditched windows on the S-512 due to the added weight, parts count and additional structural support required to integrate these relics of the past.

    jet

    Unbelievable, you say? Hardly.

    High-tech display “windows” are already available for sea cruises. Passengers staying in interior staterooms of Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas are now able to experience epic ocean views from the comfort of their rooms via an 80-inch wall-mounted screen that displays the feed from a bow- or stern-mounted camera.

    With Navigator of the Seas already sailing the open waters, and the Spike Aerospace S-512 set to be flying the clear blue skies before the end of the decade, it seems that people may be spending more time seeing the world through the lens of a camera.

    jet

  • Wireless System Could Offer A Private Fast Lane – NYTimes.com
    SAN FRANCISCO — In a spacious loft across the street from the Bay Bridge, Steve Perlman did something last week that would ordinarily bring a cellular network to its knees.
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