Amazon threatens eBook publishers as Apple looms

As Apple builds its electronic bookstore, Amazon.com is trying to use its clout to hold on to its early lead in the market, reports the New York Times. Amazon.com has threatened to stop directly selling the books of some publishers online unless they agree to a detailed list of concessions regarding the sale of electronic books, according to two industry executives with direct knowledge of the discussions. The hardball approach comes less than two months after Amazon shocked the publishing world by removing the “buy” buttons from its site for thousands of printed books from Macmillan, one of the country’s six largest publishers, in a dispute over eBook pricing. Amazon is the largest online seller of printed books and the biggest eBook seller in the United States. The company is pressuring publishers just as Apple is also preparing to sell digital books for reading on its iPad tablet, which will reach the market in early April. Five of the country’s six largest publishers—Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Penguin—already have reached deals with Apple to sell their books through its iBookstore, which will be featured on the iPad. (The holdout is Random House…)

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Viacom-YouTube secrets to be exposed in lawsuit

A legal tussle pitting media conglomerate Viacom Inc. against online video leader YouTube is about to get dirtier as a federal judge prepares to release documents that will expose their secrets, which could prove pivotal in this 3-year-old copyright dispute that has important implications for the internet, reports the Associated Press. The information expected to be unsealed March 18 could provide insights into the early strategies of YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen and how they responded to copyright complaints that quickly accumulated a few months after the web site’s 2005 debut. Viacom contends that YouTube’s employees realized copyright-protected video was being illegally posted on the web site, but routinely looked the other way because they knew the professionally produced material would help attract a bigger audience. YouTube’s lawyers have argued there was no way to know whether copyright-protected video was coming from pirates or from movie and TV studios looking to use the web site as a promotional tool. If a studio issued a notice of a copyright violation, YouTube says it promptly removed the specified clip as required under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The 1998 federal law generally protects service providers such as YouTube from copyright claims as long as they promptly remove infringing material when notified about a violation. The outcome could hinge on whether Viacom can prove YouTube knew about the copyright abuses without formal notice from Viacom…

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FCC’s plans a potential boon for community colleges

Community colleges with broadband access could serve not only students, but community members too.

Community colleges with broadband access could serve both students and community members.

Community college decision makers were encouraged by the Federal Communication Commission’s inclusion in its National Broadband Plan of robust high-speed internet networks on two-year campuses, which soon could be a central location for locals who don’t have broadband internet at home.

The FCC’s detailed strategy, released March 16, describes community colleges as “anchor institutions” that could support ultra high-speed networks and make modern web connections available to towns and cities that still rely on low-bandwidth options that don’t support online video and a host of other common technologies.

The FCC asked Congress for enough funding to bring high-speed internet to all public community colleges and maintain the networks. The National Broadband Plan seeks to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020. Fourteen million Americans don’t have broadband access, even if they want a high-speed option, according to federal estimates.

Only 16 percent of the 3,439 community college campuses in the U.S. have access to the kind of high-speed internet service that is available at more than 90 percent of research universities, according to the FCC.

With better web connections, according to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, community colleges can “offer powerful learning opportunities to even broader audiences,” including K-12 teachers specializing in technology or online learning strategies and nontraditional students who rely on web-based courses.

“Community colleges with broadband connectivity and quality online instructional programs serve as learning and career development centers for the K-12 community and for local citizens,” according to the FCC’s plan. “Community colleges also play integral roles in educating Americans about math and science and preparing students for their future careers as teachers.”

Forty percent of teachers have taken a math and science class at a community college, according to federal estimates.

Community college advocates said the FCC’s request for broadband funding on two-year campuses wasn’t surprising after the Obama administration’s early commitment to improving public higher education.

“[Community colleges] are hubs for the community,” said Jim Hermes, director of government relations for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), an organization that has worked with the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition to support technology funding for two-year colleges. “That’s always been a big function for community colleges.”

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced in January a competition for $2.6 billion in grants that would boost broadband infrastructure at “anchor institutions” such as community colleges. That money is part of $7 billion set aside in last year’s economic stimulus package to expand high-speed web access nationwide, especially in rural areas where the service is not available at all.

The January grant announcement included $150 million for “new or improved public computer centers” on community college campuses.

Despite the broadband disparity among community colleges when compared to their four-year counterparts, many two-year schools support state-of-the-art educational technology and reliable high-speed internet conducive to streaming video and other high-bandwidth technologies.

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Cyber warfare gains interest at military academies

Air Force Academy's Cyber Warfare Club has 124 members.

Air Force Academy's Cyber Warfare Club has 124 members.

As cyber security grows in importance to national security, the nation’s three major military academies are teaching students how to be effective cyber warriors, both by defending and attacking computer systems.

The U.S. Naval Academy, which admits it has fallen behind the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., outlined a strategy Monday to catch up quickly to best train future officers to fight in cyberspace.

Andrew Phillips, the Naval Academy’s chief academic officer, said the computer science department is running its first-ever cyber security course for students who are not computer science majors.

“The course is something of a pilot test to determine what sorts of topics in cyber security and information warfare can realistically be taught to midshipmen who have no prior computing background,” Phillips told the school’s Board of Visitors during a meeting March 15.

In December, the Naval Academy created the Center for Cyber Security Studies. The center was quick to coordinate with the National Security Agency, headquartered nearby, and set up a six-week internship program for 14 students. That’s a 50 percent increase from last year.

The Naval Academy is testing two new elective courses in computer science: Cryptography and Network Security and Computer Forensics. The Naval Academy also is founding a new club which will use hands-on activities and contests to increase cyber warfare awareness for the entire student body.

U.S. officials and computer experts have repeatedly warned that the nation is not adequately prepared for a cyber attack.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., chairs a congressional subcommittee that oversees cyber security issues and is a member of the academy’s Board of Visitors. He said, “Our future military leaders need to really understand that this is a major threat to the United States and we have to be prepared.”

Cyber security education has become even more important to the Navy, which established the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and recommissioned the U.S. 10th Fleet at Fort Meade in Maryland in January. They have been put together to enhance cyber security in military operations.

Phillips said the new command so close to the academy has underscored the importance of teaching cyber skills.

“The Navy really is stepping into this with both feet, and they’re doing it very quickly,” Phillips said.

The other two academies have made cyber security a part of the curriculum taken by all students for years.

Lt. Col. Robert Fanelli, a computer science professor at West Point, said information technology has been required for about 10 years for all cadets who don’t test out of the class.

“I think that the emphasis on these issues is only going to increase, at least over the short term, and I think longer-term it’s not going to go away,” Fanelli said.

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Virtual PC hole could lead to attacks, security firm says

An unpatched weakness in Microsoft’s Virtual PC could leave organizations using the virtualization software vulnerable to attack, CNET reports. An exploit writer at Core Security Technologies discovered the vulnerability in Virtual PC hypervisor and reported it to Microsoft in August 2009, Core Security said in an advisory. Microsoft said it plans to solve the problem in future updates to the vulnerable products: Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, Windows Virtual PC, and Virtual Server 2005. Microsoft Hyper-V technology is not affected by the problem, Core Security said. Virtual PC hypervisor is part of the Windows Virtual PC package, which allows customers to run multiple Windows environments on a single computer. The hypervisor is a key component of Windows 7 XP Mode, a feature designed to ease the migration to Windows 7 for customers who need to run Windows XP on the native operating system. Core Security recommends that affected users run all mission-critical Windows applications on the native hardware or use virtualization technologies that aren’t affected by the bug…

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Louisiana university recognized for use of free math software

The University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) is using a free online application called GeoGebra to help students visualize abstract math concepts, reports the Monroe News Star—and the school is one of four in the United States to be recognized as a “GeoGebra Institute” by the GeoGebra organization. GeoGebra combines geometry, algebra, tables, graphing, statistics, and calculus into one online tool. It has received several educational software awards in Europe and the U.S., according to its web site.
“GeoGebra is a free interactive online application that makes ‘active visualization’ of mathematics possible,” said Dr. Mike Beutner, assistant professor of instructional technology and the group’s coordinator. “ULM’s new GeoGebra Institute will focus on making mathematics education more engaging in the great state of Louisiana.”

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How privacy vanishes online

Using bits of data from social-networking web sites, researchers have gleaned people’s names, ages, and even Social Security numbers, reports the New York Times—raising concerns that people are doling out too much personal information on the internet. Services like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr are oceans of personal minutiae, such as birthday greetings sent and received, school and work gossip, photos of family vacations, and movies watched. Computer scientists and policy experts say that such seemingly innocuous bits of self-revelation can increasingly be collected and reassembled by computers to help create a picture of a person’s identity, sometimes down to the Social Security number. “Technology has rendered the conventional definition of personally identifiable information obsolete,” said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy division. “You can find out who an individual is without it.” So far, this type of powerful data mining, which relies on sophisticated statistical correlations, is mostly in the realm of university researchers, not identity thieves and marketers. But the FTC is worried that rules to protect privacy have not kept up with technology. The agency is convening the third of three workshops on the issue on March 17…

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FCC plan could bring high-speed web to campuses, communities

Genachowski lauded the FCC's plan to expand high-speed web connections across the US.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled the plan to expand broadband connections across the U.S.

College faculty whose campuses are surrounded by neighborhoods that rely on antiquated dial-up internet connections are hoping the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan will bring faster connections that won’t send students running to their campus’s high-speed network every time they need to complete an assignment online.

The plan, unveiled March 16 after a year of intense deliberation among the FCC and various stakeholders, seeks to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020. Fourteen million Americans don’t have broadband access, even if they want a high-speed option, according to federal estimates.

Ultra high-speed connections—at least 1 gigabit per second, or 100 times faster than a typical broadband network—also would be made available at “anchor institutions” such as hospitals, libraries, and colleges, according to the FCC’s plan.

The FCC did not detail the cost of the broadband expansion, but commissioners have said auctioning portions of national airwaves would help fund the massive program. That money would add to the $7.2 billion allocated for high-speed internet in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress last year.

“The status quo is not good enough for America,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who mentioned the broadband plan’s potential for expanding the use of eBooks in education during his March 16 address. “If we don’t act, we are at risk.”

The FCC launched a web site detailing the National Broadband Plan and offering a “spectrum dashboard,” where visitors can research how local broadband spectrums are being used, and what spectrum is available in nearby counties. The site also features a “consumer broadband test” where Americans can test the quality of their web connection.

High-speed internet has become commonplace on U.S. college campuses of every size, while students and faculty members who live in towns around campus sometimes have spotty or nonexistent broadband connections, making the basics of modern-day distance learning impossible.

Aron Goldman, an adjunct faculty member of the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, said academics and students in nearby Shutesbury, Mass.—a 10-minute drive from the university—are relegated to dial-up connections that make it difficult to complete the most basic online exercises, such as sending eMail messages with large attachments.

“It’s not a luxury,” said Goldman, who served on a panel last October that discussed sparse high-speed web connections in western Massachusetts with Gov. Deval Patrick. “It’s as essential as electricity … especially for students.”

Goldman said course-management system web sites assembled by faculty members are essentially inaccessible away from UMass Amherst’s high-speed web network. Dial-up connections in Shutesbury and other towns in the western part of the state don’t allow students to watch video clips assigned by their professors, he said.

“It just doesn’t compute with people,” Goldman said. “When you tell someone you don’t have [broadband internet], they think you just choose not to have the service because you’re some weird radical or something. … There’s disbelief that this problem even exists.”

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Online hate sites grow with social networks

According to a new report on digital hate speech, terrorists and racists are turning to online social networks and depending less on traditional web sites to recruit impressionable followers, the New York Times reports. The report, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, found a 20 percent increase in the number of hate and terrorist-abetting web sites, social network pages, chat forums, and micro-bloggers over the past year, to a total of 11,500. “The real growth is where it is for everyone: in social networks,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the center, which is a Jewish human-rights group. Longtime web sites like Stormfront, which bills itself as a leading site of the “White Nationalist Community,” are still around and active, Rabbi Cooper said. But such sites have become the old-line media of online racism. The annual report is intended as a “collective snapshot” of the activities of hate groups and terrorists online, Rabbi Cooper said. It is distributed as a CD-ROM, mainly to law-enforcement agencies and nonprofit groups, instead of online because it includes terrorist tutorials. “We don’t want to help the bad guys,” Rabbi Cooper explained…

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Fending off the ‘digital decay’ of archived resources, bit by bit

As research libraries and archives are discovering, “born-digital” materials are much more complicated and costly to preserve than anticipated, reports the New York Times. Among the archival material from Salman Rushdie currently on display at Emory University in Atlanta are inked book covers, handwritten journals, and four Apple computers. The 18 gigabytes of data they contain seemed to promise future biographers and literary scholars a digital wonderland: comprehensive, organized, and searchable files, quickly accessible with a few clicks. But like most Rushdian paradises, this digital idyll has its own set of problems. Electronically produced drafts, correspondence, and editorial comments are ultimately just a series of digits written on floppy disks, CDs, and hard drives—all of which degrade much faster than old-fashioned, acid-free paper. Even if those storage media do survive, the relentless march of technology can mean that the older equipment and software that can make sense of all those 0’s and 1’s simply don’t exist anymore. All of this means that archivists are finding themselves trying to fend off digital extinction at the same time they are puzzling through questions about what to save, how to save it, and how to make that material accessible. “It’s certainly one of those issues that keeps a lot of people awake at night,” said Anne Van Camp, the director of the Smithsonian Institution Archives and a member of a task force on the economics of digital preservation formed by the National Science Foundation, among others…

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