Broadband availability to expand

The Obama administration is seeking to nearly double the wireless communications spectrum available for commercial use over the next 10 years, an effort that could greatly enhance the ability of consumers to send and receive video and data with smartphones and other hand-held devices, reports the New York Times. President Obama will sign a presidential memorandum on Monday that aims to make available for auction some 500 megahertz of spectrum that is now controlled by the federal government and private companies, administration officials said Sunday. Most of that would be designated for commercial use in mobile broadband and similar applications, though aspects of the plan will require Congressional approval…

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Online bullies pull schools into the fray

Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites, reports the New York Times. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected. Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected…

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Early iPhone 4 owners in grip of reception problem

Apple Inc. redesigned the fourth generation of its smart phone, replacing sloping edges with a stainless steel band that wraps around the more squared-off sides. The metal band acts like a sturdy skeleton for the delicate phone, and it does double duty as the device’s antenna, reports the Associated Press. The iPhone 4 went on sale last Thursday morning in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Japan. Within hours, some early buyers posted messages on Apple’s customer support website, complaining that gripping the gadget in ways that covered small black lines in the steel band could cause the number of “bars”–the indicator of call signal strength–to plummet. Some people said the iPhone 4 would disconnect mid-call when the phone was nestled in their hands in such a way that the lower-left corner of the device was covered.

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Computers make strides in recognizing speech

For decades, computer scientists have been pursuing artificial intelligence (AI)—but in recent years, rapid progress has been made in machines that can listen, speak, see, reason, and learn, reports the New York Times. The AI technology that has moved furthest into the mainstream is computer understanding of what humans are saying. People increasingly talk to their cell phones to find things, instead of typing. Both Google’s and Microsoft’s search services now respond to voice commands. The number of American doctors using speech software to record and transcribe accounts of patient visits and treatments has more than tripled in the past three years, to 150,000. Meanwhile, translation software being tested by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is fast enough to keep up with some simple conversations. With some troops in Iraq, English is translated to Arabic and Arabic to English. But there is still a long way to go. When a soldier asked a civilian, “What are you transporting in your truck?” the Arabic reply was that the truck was “carrying tomatoes.” But the English translation became “pregnant tomatoes.” The speech software understood “carrying,” but not the context. Yet if far from perfect, speech recognition software is good enough to be useful in more ways all the time. Take call centers: Today, voice software enables many calls to be automated entirely. And more advanced systems can understand even a perplexed, rambling customer well enough to route the caller to someone trained in that product, saving time and frustration for the customer. They can detect anger in a caller’s voice and respond accordingly—usually by routing the call to a manager…

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On new iPhone, a mystery of dropped calls

Apple’s touch-screen smart phone has been a sensation since Day 1 three years ago, and many who own the device believe it to be almost perfect—if only it worked better as a phone. That might be the case with the new iPhone 4 as well, reports the New York Times. What surprised many of the new phone’s earliest adopters as they tested the phone after its June 24 launch: The precious little bars that signal network connections inexplicably disappeared when they cradled the phone in their hands a particular way. Sometimes, but not always, the cradling resulted in dropped calls. In the hours before Apple weighed in on the problem, iPhone fans turned to one another on the internet in a zealous exercise in crowd-sourcing for answers to the mystery. They were all the more baffled because the iPhone 4 was designed to have better reception. A metal band that wraps around the edges of the device is supposed to pull in a stronger signal; software is supposed to choose the section of the signal with the least congestion. Late on June 24, an Apple spokesman, Steve Dowling, acknowledged that the issues experienced by users were real but played down their importance. “Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, depending on the placement of the antennas,” he said. “This is a fact of life for every wireless phone.”

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iPhone 4 paves the way for mobile video conferencing

Colleges and universities could take advantage of the iPhone 4's video conferencing feature.

Colleges and universities could take advantage of the iPhone 4's video conferencing feature.

Apple’s iPhone 4, which went on sale June 24, features a mobile video conferencing application that could increase collaboration among students and faculty at different locations and make on-the-go meetings easier for higher-education officials.

Video conferencing is possible with the addition of a second camera on the front of the new iPhone, in addition to a five-megapixel camera and a flash on the back. For now, the video conferencing function, FaceTime, works only if both parties to the call have an iPhone 4 and are connected over a Wi-Fi network rather than a cell phone network.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs indicated that FaceTime eventually will work over cellular networks, saying Apple needs to “work a little bit” with wireless providers to make it “ready for the future.”

The iPhone’s FaceTime feature could help campus technology staff hold meetings from different locations and troubleshoot specific problems.

SysAid Technologies is one company that has launched an iPhone IT assistance application. The Helpdesk Application and SysAid IT Mobile help IT staff control service requests, including viewing, updating, filtering, and customizing requests.

IT specialists might find the FaceTime application helpful during conversations if they must identify specific messages on computer screens or relay instructions for a procedure occurring across a campus.

Various media outlets and technology enthusiasts have expressed differing opinions of FaceTime and whether the feature will succeed.

The San Francisco Chronicle predicted that FaceTime will be a success, because mobile video conferencing “is available on a device that will achieve sufficient saturation among groups,” the Wi-Fi networks over which FaceTime is set to operate will make the application look and sound top-notch, and Apple likely will make the application very easy to use, prompting more participation.

Meanwhile, CNET pointed to a handful of reasons why the video conferencing feature might not prevail: Holding a cell phone at arm’s length to capture a continuous image of the caller’s face, while keeping one’s arm steady enough so that the image is not shaky, is not physically comfortable after a while. CNET also said that video calls are awkward by nature, and because FaceTime operates only on Wi-Fi for the time being, users will be forced to use the feature at home, at school, or in other Wi-Fi hotspots.

The news site also said that “according to Apple, FaceTime won’t support 3G this year, which is strange given that Fring, Skype, and other VoIP apps offer it.”

Apple isn’t the first company to offer video conferencing on a mobile device. Sprint HTC EVO 4G users can video chat with the new Qik software offered on the phone. And with Fring, users can make free mobile video calls and live chats over a cellular or Wi-Fi network with other Fring members and other services such as Skype, GoogleTalk, Facebook, and more.

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Technology has changed how news is reported — and read

In a media-saturated world, everyone with a smart phone can be a fan and a critic, a citizen blogger and an amateur reporter, reports the Detroit News—and looking at the coverage when Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo was considering leaving the school provides a stark example. In mid-May 2000, the news shocked Spartan fans still reveling in a national championship: Izzo was mulling a job with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks that would bring him millions more in annual salary than he could make in East Lansing. As fans fretted, the media cranked into action, but it was limited to the mainstream newspapers and a few fan blogs and message boards writing on what was a three-day story. What a difference a decade makes. Over the nine days that Izzo considered a move to the Cleveland Cavaliers this year, thousands of news stories, web stories, sidebars, updates, columns, and blogs landed on a vastly different media landscape. But that was just a fraction of the blizzard of reports that ultimately drew the ire of MSU administrators: Talk radio went wall-to-wall with Izzo speculation, and Twitter and Facebook were employed to propel even the tiniest detail—true or not—into must-have news. “We did have a lot of tweets that turned into facts and rumors that turned into stories,” said MSU President Lou Anna Simon last week, moments after a press conference at which Izzo announced his decision to be a “Spartan for life.” “I just kind of regret that it happened.” Big news is something that you no longer just read: You can also shape and share it. Simon is right, the media world has changed—and the Izzo saga shows it’s going to mean changes for everyone, from news sources, to reporters, even the consumer…

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For-profit colleges find new market niche

The for-profit online institution Kaplan University has an offer for California community college students who cannot get a seat in a class they need, reports the New York Times: Under a memorandum of understanding with the chancellor of the community college system, they can take the online version at Kaplan, with a 42-percent tuition discount. The opportunity would not come cheap, however; Kaplan charges $216 a credit with the discount, compared with $26 a credit at California’s community colleges. Supporters of for-profit education say the offer underscores how Kaplan and other profit-making colleges can help accommodate the mushrooming demand for higher education. At the same time, government officials have become increasingly concerned that students at for-profit colleges are far more likely than those at public institutions to take out large loans—and default on them. For better or worse, the tough times for public colleges nationwide have presented for-profit colleges with a promising marketing opportunity. “We thought, in light of the budget crisis and the number of community college classes which are being canceled, if we have that same class here, we would give students the opportunity to take it at Kaplan,” said Greg F. Marino, president of Kaplan University Group, a profit-making business owned by the Washington Post Company…

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Business school swaps Google Apps for Microsoft Live@edu

A French business school plans to trade Google Apps, used by around half its staff and students, for Microsoft’s rival Live@edu service, IDG News Service reports. Skema Business School’s 6,250 students, 500 administrative staff, and 128 teaching staff will have access to Microsoft’s Live@edu hosted eMail service, which includes calendar and contact management, instant messaging, video conferencing, and 10GB of storage space, the school announced June 23. Staff and students also will be offered Microsoft Office 2010 under a site-wide licensing program, and access to Sharepoint Online, giving them each 25GB of storage space for documents, whether shared or their own. The applications will run in Microsoft’s European data centers. The school is making the move as part of a three-year collaboration agreement with Microsoft, which will also see the company offer internships to Skema graduates and supply staff to teach elements of a course on social networking, the school said. Skema was created last November from the merger of two French business schools, CERAM and ESC Lille. ESC Lille, with around 3,000 students, adopted Google Apps Education Edition in April 2008, one of the first schools in France to do so. Switching to Live@edu will allow Skema to harmonize the IT systems used by staff and students of the two schools, and will enable it to integrate them with the software used to run the school…

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Major copyright ruling a victory for ‘user-generated content’

The pirated material came from the millions of people who have uploaded clips to YouTube since its 2005 inception.

The pirated material came from the millions of people who have uploaded clips to YouTube since its 2005 inception.

In a high-stakes legal battle with important implications for the future of the internet, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in New York sided with Google Inc. on June 23 as he rebuffed media company Viacom Inc.’s attempt to collect more than $1 billion in damages for alleged copyright infringement by the Google-owned web site YouTube during its first two years of existence.

YouTube’s actions spoke louder than its founders’ words when it came down to deciding whether the internet’s most watched video site illegally exploited copyrighted clips owned by Viacom, the judge found.

The 30-page opinion embraces Google’s interpretation of a 12-year-old law that shields internet services from claims of copyright infringement as long as they promptly remove illegal content when notified of a violation.

The ruling is a major victory for Google, as well as other internet service providers and free-speech groups who feared a decision in favor of Viacom would undercut the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and make it more difficult for people to use the internet to express themselves.

“Without this decision, user-generated content would dry up and the internet would cease to be a participatory medium,” said David Sohn, a lawyer for the Center for Democracy & Technology.

If not for the broad protections allowed under digital copyright law, Google probably wouldn’t have paid $1.76 billion to acquire YouTube in 2006. A few months before that deal, Google’s own executives had branded the video-sharing service as “a ‘rogue enabler’ of content theft,” according to documents unearthed in the copyright infringement case.

eMail messages obtained as part of the evidence submitted in the case depicted YouTube founders Chad Hurley, Steven Chen, and Jawed Karim as video pirates more interested in getting rich quick than obeying federal law.

But Stanton seem more interested in YouTube’s behavior than the mindset of its founders.

In dismissing the lawsuit before a trial, Stanton noted that Viacom had spent several months accumulating about 100,000 videos violating its copyright and then sent a mass takedown notice on Feb. 2, 2007. By the next business day, Stanton said, YouTube had removed virtually all of them.

Stanton said there’s no dispute that “when YouTube was given the [takedown] notices, it removed the material.”

The judge’s reasoning was “clear and decisive,” said Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University associate professor who specializes in high-tech law. “He rose above the fray and didn’t get into any of the mudslinging that was going on in this case.”

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