Saturday, June 02, 2007

Photo Tagging as a Privacy Problem?

An anonymous reader writes "The Harvard Law Review, a journal for legal scholarship, recently published a short piece on the privacy implications of online photo-tagging (pdf). The anonymously penned piece dourly concludes that 'privacy law, in its current form, is of no help to those unwillingly tagged.' Focusing on the privacy threat from newly emergent automatic facial recognition search engines', like Polar Rose but not Flickr or Facebook, the article states that 'for several reasons, existing privacy law is simply ill-suited for this new invasion.' The article suggests that Congress create a photo-tagging opt-out system, similar to what they did with telemarketing calls and the Do-Not-Call Registry." How would you enforce such a registry, though?

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


Friday, June 01, 2007

How To: Turn your wifi router into a repeater


An update to the popular DD-WRT firmware for wireless routers can turn the device into a signal repeater that extends your current network's range. The Hackszine blog points out a tutorial for doing just that:

This How-To provides step-by-step instructions for creating a Universal Wireless Repeater appliance: a device that you can place anywhere and it will wirelessly repeat the strongest signal, onto another wireless network (with or without security). This functionality is also known as Wireless Client Bridge, or Range Expander. Unlike WDS, once you have this appliance setup, it will work with any open network.

Sounds like a great way to extend your network from the office to the basement. See also Adam's tutorial on how to turn a $60 router into a $600 router with the DD-WRT firmware installed.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tainted Products Continue to Flow out of China

Toothpaste, cough syrup, and fish added to growing list of contaminated products

By Omid Ghoreishi
Epoch Times Edmonton Staff
May 31, 2007
Bella waits for a check up at Adams Veterinary Clinic in Florida after her owner brought her fearing the canine was fed a tainted brand of pet food originating from China, and distributed from Canada. Within China, quality control and food safety regulations tend to be lax or non-existent. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Bella waits for a check up at Adams Veterinary Clinic in Florida after her owner brought her fearing the canine was fed a tainted brand of pet food originating from China, and distributed from Canada. Within China, quality control and food safety regulations tend to be lax or non-existent. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Related Articles
- A Costly Trade With China Sunday, May 27, 2007
- FDA to Monitor Toothpaste From China Friday, May 25, 2007

Just as Canadian and U.S. health officials were scrambling to find out which brands of Chinese-made toothpaste had entered their countries, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced last Friday that it has intercepted a shipment of corn gluten from China contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid.

Melamine, a toxic chemical used to make fertilizers, is the chemical that in March was found to have contaminated over 100 brands of pet food in Canada and the U.S. The source of the contamination was found to be tainted wheat flour imported from China.

Also last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that packages of fish imported from China labeled monkfish could actually be puffer fish which contain the lethal toxin Tetrodotoxin.

Earlier in the week, health officials in the Dominican Republic recalled two Chinese brands of toothpaste which contain diethylene glycol, a lethal chemical used in engine coolant. The contaminated toothpaste has also been sold in Panama and Australia.

The same chemical was found in a Chinese-made cough syrup in Panama last year, and resulted in the death of at least 50 people. A spokesperson from Health Canada confirmed that the two Chinese toothpaste brands have not been approved for sale in Canada, and have not been found on the Canadian market so far.

Toxic Imports

Monthly reports by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show that China by far tops the list of countries with the most food shipment rejections. Last April, 257 import shipments from China were denied entry to the U.S. for reasons ranging from mislabeling to using poisonous additives.

A few years ago, the European Union banned all imports of animal products from China after finding high levels of dangerous chemicals in some of the products. Although the blanket ban was later removed, many products still remain on the banned list.

Last year, South Korean officials banned Chinese imports of Kimchi, a spicy cabbage dish, after parasites normally found in human excrement were discovered in tested samples.

In recent years, both Canada and the U.S. have been accepting cheap and very often lower-quality imports from China, which might explain why problems with Chinese food imports have suddenly surfaced; the more potentially tainted products that are imported, the higher the chance they will make it onto the market.

Recently, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) boosted its efforts in inspecting shipments of wheat, rice, soy, corn gluten, and protein concentrates of Chinese origin entering Canada, holding all such shipments for inspection before they can enter the Canadian market.

"The focus is on what presents the risk, which is the product, not the country. In that context, when the evidence points to a particular country being a source of a particular problem, then we do more specifically [focus] on products from that country," says Paul Mayers, executive director of the Animal Products Directorate with the CFIA.

Mayers says the CFIA has not set a specific time frame to terminate the border lookout for vegetable and protein concentrates from China, but it will continue until there is "sufficient assurance" that contaminated products are not entering Canada.

Even so, the possibility of tainted food slipping through the cracks is high, says Dr. Keith Warriner, a food science professor and food safety researcher at the University of Guelph.

"If you think how much product is imported to Canada, to actually test it all is merely impossible. In addition to that, sometimes these contaminants are hidden in fairly low concentrations, so you don't know what to look for."

Fake Products

Within China, quality control and food safety regulations tend to be lax or non-existent, and consumers have to be constantly vigilant for so-called "fake products," which can include everything from fake soy sauce and fake herbs to wine with high levels of industrial ethanol and vegetables overdosed with fertilizer.

"If you talk to anybody from China, they'll tell you about how there's absolutely no food safety standards there in a lot of the locally produced foods," says Dr. Warriner.

Julie, a Chinese-Canadian who immigrated to Canada from Beijing in 2000 and wishes to keep her surname private, says it is very common in China to read in the local papers about cases of tainted food being sold, resulting in cases of poisoning.

In a famous case in 2004, hundreds of babies in an eastern Chinese province became ill and 13 died after incurring severe malnutrition from fake milk powder.

In a speech in Paris in 2006, Zhou Qing, a Chinese scholar and freelance writer, provided some disturbing statistics from a food and safety investigation he performed. In 2001, around 6,000 students in Ji Lin city were poisoned by fake soymilk, and in 2002, another 3,000 students in Hai Cheng city, Liao Ning province, were poisoned.

Qing also mentioned a 2004 Chinese survey indicating that 90 per cent of the participants were worried about food safety, and 82 per cent of those had encountered food safety problems. He said Chinese scholars have ascertained that there are two to four million food poisoning cases occurring in China each year.

Back in 2000, an official from China's State Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision announced a crackdown on the production of fake and shoddy goods. The areas targeted were construction materials, agricultural production materials, gas stoves, household appliances and food.

Counterfeit Drugs

Dozens of people have died in China as a result of counterfeit drugs. Last year, 11 deaths were caused by the drug Xinfu, a poor quality antibiotic that hadn't been properly sterilized.

Many counterfeit drugs that originate in China and India make their way onto overseas markets. In India, there's a law against selling counterfeit drugs within the country, but not against exporting them.

The former head of China's State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was recently convicted of accepting large bribes to approve hundreds of untested drugs. In one case, a company paid bribes to Zheng in return for approving 277 drugs, mostly antibiotics.

In February, the BBC reported that corruption at the State Food and Drug Administration runs so deep that Beijing is considering closing it down entirely.Beijing announced on Tuesday that a new recall process targeting unapproved food products would be introduced by the end of the year.

Dr. Warriner says that since China's relatively recent emergence onto the global market, there has been no real system of food safety inspection or protocol to enhance food safety, and standards in China remain far from what we expect in North America.

"With all the outbreaks of pet food scandals and now the toothpaste…can we afford the risk of injury to the Canadian population, and obviously to our pets as well? I would advise a very cautionary tale…this is not just a flash in the pan, it's an endemic problem, a serious problem," says Warriner.

Additional reporting by Dane Crocker, Rory Xu, and Heidi B. Malhotra.


As Imports Increase, a Tense Dependence on China


A woman sprays pesticides on a wheat farm near Xuzhou, China.
Ryan Pyle

A woman sprays pesticides on a wheat farm near Xuzhou, China. Some imports from China have come under fire after manufacturers there added to wheat gluten, an ingredient in some pet foods, a chemical blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats in North America. Corbis

Price Comparison of Food Imports Manufactured in Europe and China
Lindsay Mangum

Until the late 1990s, most of the products listed here were made in the United States and Europe. As of 2007, Chinese companies have dominated the market, offering the products to foreign manufacturers at a considerably cheaper cost. NPR

Q&A: Monitoring Food Import Safety

Former FDA official William Hubbard explains why melamine got through the FDA's food safety inspection system, and whether consumers should worry about imports.

Top food imports from China in 2006
Lindsay Mangum

Imports from China of concentrated apple juice and garlic alone topped $200 million in 2006. NPR

Morning Edition, May 25, 2007 · Toothpaste from China is the latest official worry. This week, the Food and Drug Administration began testing it at U.S. ports of entry after contaminated Chinese toothpaste began showing up in other countries. It contained a chemical used in antifreeze — the same chemical that killed people in Panama last year when it turned up in cough syrup, mislabeled by Chinese manufacturers as a harmless sweetener. An FDA spokesman says no test results are available yet on the toothpaste at U.S. ports.

The FDA is still watching vegetable proteins from China for signs of melamine contamination, a chemical that turned up in pet food and animal feed earlier this spring.

U.S. officials are asking the Chinese to do more to safeguard the food and drugs they export to America. And Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt warned that any nation that loses U.S. trust in its exports will suffer economically.

"Assuring the safety of food in large nations is a demanding proposition, whether it's China or the United States," Leavitt said. "And neither of our countries has perfected this process."

Many experts say the problems are a consequence of globalization, and especially of America's growing dependence on China for food ingredients.

The FDA lists on its Web site food imports its inspectors have refused at U.S. ports. Last month, FDA inspectors blocked 257 food shipments from China, according to the list.

"That's by far the most of all the countries of the world," says William Hubbard.

He knows the FDA inside out; Hubbard used to be its deputy commissioner and now works with the Coalition for a Stronger FDA.

Even when the volume of Chinese imports is taken into account, that's a far higher reject rate than other trading partners.

In the past year, the FDA rejected more than twice as many food shipments from China as from all other countries combined.

The rejected shipments make an unappetizing list. Inspectors commonly block Chinese food imports because they're "filthy." That's the official term.

"They might smell decomposition. They might see gross contamination of the food. 'Filthy' is a broad term for a product that is not fit for human consumption," Hubbard says.

Another rejection code is "vet-drug-res." That means the food product, usually things like fish, seafood and eels, contains residues of veterinary drugs, such as antibiotics and antifungals.

"These fish are often raised in polluted water, unfortunately. So they're given these drugs to treat them," Hubbard says.

Drug residues in food are illegal. They promote antibiotic resistance, which makes drugs useless when they're needed. One drug that routinely shows up in Chinese food imports is dangerous. It's a veterinary antibiotic that causes cancer in animals.

When Hubbard was at the FDA, he heard all kinds of stories about foreign food processors, like the one a staffer told him after visiting a Chinese factory that makes herbal tea.

"To speed up the drying process, they would lay the tea leaves out on a huge warehouse floor and drive trucks over them so that the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out," Hubbard says. "And the problem there is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves."

That lead-contaminated herbal tea would only be caught by FDA inspectors at the border if they knew to look for it, Hubbard says.

"The system is so understaffed now that what is being caught and stopped is only a fraction of the food that's actually slipping through the net," he says.

The FDA normally inspects about 1 percent of all food and food ingredients at U.S. borders. It does tests on about half of 1 percent.

And official vigilance has been going down — for two reasons.

First, food imports have increased dramatically, from $45 billion in 2003 to $64 billion three years later.

Second, the "food" part of the FDA has been getting smaller.

Shaun Kennedy of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense says no country is increasing its food exports faster than China.

"China has increased overall its food imports to the United States by over 20 percent in the last year alone," Kennedy says. "Going back three years, we have doubled our agricultural inputs from China."

China has become the leading supplier of many food ingredients, such as apple juice, a primary sweetener in many foods; garlic and garlic powder, a major flavor agent; sausage casings and cocoa butter.

China now supplies 80 percent of the world's ascorbic acid — vitamin C. It's used as a preservative and nutritional enriching agent in thousands of foods. One-third of the world's vitamin A now comes from China, along with much of the supply of vitamin B-12 and many health-food supplements, such as the amino acid lysine.

That is no accident. Chinese manufacturers have tried to corner the market in many food ingredients by under-pricing other suppliers.

Leo Hepner, a food-ingredient consultant based in London, says vitamin C is a good example.

"The price in 1995 was $15 per kilogram," Hepner says. "Today, the price from China is $3.50."

No one can compete with that. So most Western producers of vitamin C have shut down.

That's globalization. But there's a hidden price for cheap goods. Earlier this year, lead-contaminated multivitamins showed up on the shelves of U.S. retailers. And this spring, vitamin A from China contaminated with dangerous bacteria nearly ended up in European baby food.

It's bound to happen more often. Hubbard says the agency is overwhelmed by the rising tide of imports.

"When I came to the FDA in the 1970s, the food program was almost half of the FDA's budget. Today, it's only a quarter," Hubbard says.

Experts say the FDA has about 650 food inspectors to cover 60,000 domestic food producers and 418 ports of entry.

The agency plans to close nearly half of its 13 food-testing labs.

All that means food safety depends on the vigilance of food companies operating in a fast-changing world. Many companies may not know much about their suppliers.

Earlier this month, the FDA wrote a letter to food manufacturers reminding them of their legal responsibility to make sure all the ingredients they use are safe. Don't depend on FDA testing, the letter says.

Jean Halloran agrees. She's director of food safety for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. She has some advice for food companies.

"I think you have a responsibility to get on a plane and go over there, and see the plant where that's being manufactured, so that you can see for yourself whether there's a polluted water supply coming into the facility, whether lead-bearing paint chips might be falling into the vats of whatever you're purchasing," she says.

But consumers who want to find out where food is coming from or what American companies are doing to safeguard it might not have much luck.

Four years ago, Congress passed a law requiring food to be labeled for its country-of-origin. But that doesn't extend to individual food ingredients.

And when NPR asked major food companies where they get their ingredients and how they test them, companies either didn't respond or said those matters are proprietary secrets.

Michael Doyle heads the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia and consults for Con-Agra, a leading food producer. He says there's a lot of variation in companies' trustworthiness.

"Some of the major brand companies I know are very proactive in addressing food safety," he says. "Some others are not."

Often, he says, consumers have to take a company's word that its food is safe.

"And unfortunately, that's what the FDA has to do, too," Doyle says.

Global Health

Q&A: Why China Tops the FDA Import Refusal List


Pet food on a store shelf.
Justin Sullivan

Deadly additives found in pet food has launched a wider FDA investigation into food and food ingredient imports from China. Getty Images © 2007, May 24, 2007 · The discovery of the chemical melamine in U.S. pet and livestock food earlier this spring has triggered a wider FDA investigation into the possible contamination of food imports from China. The tainted pet food is blamed for killing cats and dogs in the United States, and has been traced to two Chinese manufacturers who added the chemical — used to make plastics and sterilize swimming pools — to wheat and rice products to make them appear protein-rich.

William Hubbard, former senior associate commissioner for policy, planning and legislation at the FDA, now works with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Coalition for a Stronger FDA. Here, Hubbard explains why the FDA's focus is increasingly on China, and whether consumers should worry.

The FDA has a system in place for inspecting food imports; why didn't it catch the melamine contamination?

There has been a tremendous increase in recent years in importations of foods and particularly food ingredients. And in many cases, those foods ingredients are coming from developing countries that do not have a strong food-safety inspection system. So the concern is that if the FDA can't look at those food ingredients, they are basically getting through freely.

Unfortunately, with 13 million food imports last year and only several hundred inspectors, the FDA was able to look at only about 1 percent of shipments at U.S. ports. And it rarely looks at food ingredients at all – such as the Chinese imports of wheat gluten (a protein in wheat) associated with the melamine contamination.

The FDA keeps a running list on its Web site of food imports it has rejected at U.S. ports, and the reasons. China consistently tops that list. Why?

China's export market for food ingredients has zoomed up in recent years. Individual shipments of food and ingredient exports from China to the United States have gone from 82,000 in 2002 to 199,000 in 2006. And I'm told by FDA officials that they're rapidly reaching up to 300,000 this year.

What are some of the reasons the FDA has refused imports from China?

A very common description will be illegal animal drugs, and what that means is a processor has given seafood — say fish — an illegal drug to treat either a bacterial or fungal infection or both. The common ones are malachite green for fungal infections or fluoroquinolones for antibiotic infections. These fish are often raised in polluted water, so they're given these drugs to treat them. The problem is, when these fish arrive in the United States, their tissue contains these illegal drugs. So the FDA attempts to identify shipments with these drugs and keep them out.

What is the problem for humans who eat fish with these residues of antibiotics or antifungals?

They can certainly contribute to antibiotic resistance, and in some cases, they can cause direct health effects, such as anemia. These are drugs that are not approved in the United States for use in these commodities, and they're viewed as dangerous, so the FDA attempts to keep them out. When a foreign processor is using them to make their fish stay alive, that's clearly a violation of U.S. law. But the FDA can't go to that country and force them to change their practices.

Why not?

The FDA has no authority to require a foreign country to send us safe food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture can do that for meat. The USDA can say to a foreign exporter of meat, "You must show us that you are making safe meat before you even put it on the boat." But for the FDA, all the responsibility is on the agency to find the problem at the port. And when you have so few inspectors, many problems don't get found.

Some might say, "We aren't seeing a lot of people getting sick and dying because of bad food and pharmaceutical imports." Are we being alarmists?

In the case of pharmaceuticals, there's the recent example of diethylene glycol poisoning, which has been blamed for sickening adults and children around the world, even causing deaths.* It's been traced back to a Chinese firm that apparently substituted a chemical used in antifreeze for pharmaceutical-grade glycerine, which is a sweet-tasting thickener used in elixirs like cough syrup and toothpaste.

Should consumers be concerned?

You certainly need to know that many ingredients and foods are coming from other countries. But I think the food supply is safe. I think we can continue to consume our food with confidence. But the fear is that these examples are markers for an ever-increasing problem. And when you have what some consider a weak FDA, then that actually gives foreign exporters incentives to send us their bad stuff.

How do the FDA port inspectors decide what to look at?

They attempt to use a risk-assessment process that examines problems from a given country in the past or a given food in the past or a given importer in the past. That helps the FDA to target places that have been more problematic before — so they're not taking time with, say, frozen fish from Norway, which perhaps has never been a problem. Seafood from China, however, has been a persistent problem.

Why hasn't the FDA been inspecting shipments of food ingredients?

I don't think anyone was seeing the problem until the melamine contamination happened. And the FDA's resources are so stretched that it had to focus on where there had been historical problems, such as seafood and cheeses and other things. Now that the melamine problem has arisen, the FDA will have to shift resources to look at ingredients. Unfortunately, however, that means it will shift resources away from inspecting dairy products or seafood.

Given the potential level of contamination, can't U.S. manufacturers just stop buying animal or human food from China?

The reports are that the Chinese are selling these ingredients at very low cost. And some reports suggest that they're attempting to essentially capture the market in many cases. For instance, a very common preservative in all of our processed food is something called ascorbic acid – vitamin C. And I understand that 80 percent of the world's ascorbic acid is now made in China.

Are you saying manufacturers can't afford to go elsewhere for these imports, or that there isn't anywhere else to go?

Well, there's certainly the price differential. But I understand that there's only one ascorbic acid manufacturer left in the United States. If that's true, then that means that a processor is going to be hard-pressed to find a domestic source of ascorbic acid. And ascorbic acid is a safe and useful additive to preserve food.

What do you think should be done?

The government has got to step up to the plate and give the FDA more power. The FDA should be able to say to a country, "If you keep sending us unsafe food, we're going to embargo that food or even the entire country until you put in place a protective system."

* According to the Associated Press, diethylene glycol (DEG) was blamed for the deaths of at least 51 people in Panama last year after it was mixed into cough syrup, another case with allegations involving China. Between 1990 and 1998, similar incidents of DEG poisoning reportedly occurred in Argentina, Bangladesh, Haiti, India and Nigeria, killing hundreds.

Edited by Vikki Valentine

Read More... - Putting Video To Work

Clipsyndicate provides a means to create and add videos to your own customizable channel which can be directly published to your blog or website. You can search the site's content to add to your channel or you can find your own clips. Each registered member may have an unlimited number of channels to publish to their site. Clips may be added via a smart channel function which creates a channel using saved searches and is automatically updated with your search parameters; or users may simply add clips manually by searching the database. Clipsyndicate hosts featured channels with content made specifically for the site; while these clips may be added to any blog/personal website, their content and order may not be altered. To publish to your site there are three options, RSS, JavaScript, or html. The method depends entirely on your preference. Registration is required to use any of the functions, but it is free.

In their own words:
"ClipSyndicate™ enables broadcasters and other video content producers to realize new revenue streams and extend their brand into the "Long Tail" of the Internet by syndicating video clips to thousands of vertical web sites looking for specific content of interest for their end-users."

Why it might be a killer:
ClipSyndicate provides video content which you can easily publish to your blog and it's legal. Content providers get a share in the advertising revenue and benefit from increased exposure. Bloggers et al get additional content for their site plus a chance to earn more revenue, so it benefits everyone.

Some questions:
Will bloggers opt to got with ClipSyndicate, or will they prefer to use videos from Youtube and Metacafe? What type of videos does the site feature? Will users be able to import videos from other sites? 

Read More... - So Everyone Can see Your Flickr Photos

Invitr is a Flickr related application which simply extends your sharing capabilities. With Invitr you can share your Flickr photos with non-Flickr members; so photos that have been catagorized as private can now be sent and shared with anyone you choose. Invitr also lets you set up an expiration date for your photos, so after your predetermined date that photo is no longer available for viewing. To use Invitr just log into your Flickr account as usual, select the photos you wish to share and fill out the email address info. Those who receive the photo links can only view items, commenting etc is not allowed. The URL sent out by Invitr with your photos can be passed along, so if you're super secretive about your photos Invitr isn't for you, but for everyone else who wishes to share their beautiful Flickr pics without having to goad their grandma and friends into joining, Invitr's a treat.

In their own words:
"Invitr introduces the only missing feature of the almighty Flickr. Invitr allows you to specify one (or more) private pictures to be shown to as many/little people as you want. Think of an extension of the Public, Friends, Family and Private status."

Why it might be a killer:
Invitr is simple but effective. Takes care of that annoying little fact of registration and sharing; you can share your photos with whomever you want.

Some questions:
How's the site going to make a profit? Is it really a useful app that people will use? People could just sign up with Flickr and then they wouldn't need Invitr. 


Apple conceals buyer data in DRM-free iTunes tracks

May 31, 2007 (Computerworld) -- A security researcher warned iTunes customers today that Apple Inc. encodes the buyer's account name and e-mail address in the new DRM-free tracks that debuted yesterday.

The data added to noncopy protected files purchased on iTunes can be viewed after the track is played by pulling up its File Info dialog in Mac OS X, said "mordaxus," one of the regulars who writes on the security blog Emergent Chaos.

"They [Apple] aren't the only one to watermark the files," said mordaxus, who pointed out that eMusic does something similar.

All iTunes files include the name on the buyer's account and the associated e-mail address -- not just the new DRM-free tunes. But their inclusion on noncopy protected songs is significant, mordaxus said, because some people might be tempted to share bought music on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network.

"If you're going to put music files up a P2P network, you cannot be paranoid. They are out to get you," said mordaxus. "It would be folly to take any music you bought from any service and serve it up."

The Unofficial Apple Weblog posted a three-step set of instructions on how Mac OS X users can use Terminal to dig into an iTunes Plus file.

Apple did not returns calls asking why iTunes tracks, whether protected by DRM or not, contain buyer data.


Transparency comes to cars

Rick points us to this article about a Saturn initiative. You'll be able to test drive the competition at the Saturn dealership.



Google Goes Offline, on Purpose

Google is looking to help web applications get offline, releasing a new Gears open source project. At a demonstration, today it is releasing a version of Google Reader that works offline via a manual sync.

Google Gears is a developer release with new JavaScript APIs for data storage, application caching, and multi-threading features, the company says. In a demo today at headquarters in Mountain View team members said it should work for everything from spotty Internet access to total offline status. They said Google applications like Gmail would be a natural extension, whereas applications like search would not make sense.

Google is looking to start an industry standard and has brought Adobe, Mozilla, and Opera in to support the project. It is looking to outside developers to explore the capabilities of the tools. The announcement comes on the eve of a worldwide developer day, where Google is also announcing a Mashup Editor as well as one million downloads of its Google Web Toolkit.

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Screen Capture a Long and Scrolling Web page Online, one of the favorite Flash-based tool for editing images online just keeps getting better and more useful. They have a excellent add-on for Firefox 2.0+ that will help you grab a screenshot of any webpage with a simple right click and it will automatically export the image to Picnik image editor for further editing (like resizing, including borders, overlay text, rounded corners, etc) For instance, this page from Steve Rubel was enhanced using the Vignette / Matte effect and it's trasformed from a boring screenshot into something that immediately invites attention. screen capture webpage online You can screen capture either the visible portion of the webpage or the entire webpage even if extends several folds. Very handy for saving snapshots of webpages (like an ebay paypment receipt) or for creating thumbnail images of your websites for MyBlogLog, Facebook or other services. Picnik Firefox Add-on | The Picnik Screen capture extension is Firefox only but here are some screen-capture options for IE. And some more Firefox extensions for taking screen capture of websites and HTML web pages.


Choosing the right Web Stats and Traffic Analysis Program for your Websites

The Best Web Stats Software This is a good time for site owners and bloggers as they do not have to invest in expensive web analytics software for tracking and analyzing visitors to their websites. We now have tons of interesting options like Statcounter, Sitemeter, Google Analytics, FeedBurner or even MyBlogLog that will help you understand how visitors are discovering your site and how they are using it. Abundance of choices can be overwhelming for must users so we'll help you compare and pick the best site statistics package for your website. SiteMeter and Statcounter - This is the most popular breed of web analytics software on the internet that you will find included in the maximum number of websites today. Both the services are similar in nature and very reliable. They will help you track where the users are coming from, what keywords they have used in the search engines, how long they stayed on your site, physical location on the Google Map, what browser they're are using, etc. I somehow prefer StatCounter over Sitemeter since Statcounter allows you to track the activity of last 500 visitors while Sitemeter limits that to 100 visitors. Second, Sitemeter is always visible on the webpage while Statcounter offers an option to hide the tracking icon from web pages. 1003 Bees Site Statistics103 Bees - Like MyBlogLog, this tool also has a very specific purpose - it will analyze the traffic that is reaching you from search engines like Google or Yahoo - you will know the search phrases / keywords that internet users are typing in the search boxes before reaching your website. [a dream come true from SEOs] While such data is available through all other web stats software, 103 Bees is fast, uncluttered and less complicated for an average user. One simple report will help you analyze and build upon your organic search traffic. MyBlogLog - MyBlogLog is famous for tracking outgoing traffic in near real time - it will show hyperlinks that your visitors are clicking to leave the website. A neat way to learn about stuff that's currently hot and popular on your website. You can also use MyBlogLog to track Adsense clicks - it won't tell you the specific Google Ad that the visitor clicked to exit the site but you'll know what Ad formats are receiving the maximum clicks on your website. The basic free version of MyBlogLog should be good enough for most users. [Track MySpace Profile Visitors] Google Analytics LogoGoogle Analytics (formerly Urchin) - This Google goodie is absolutely free, generates beautiful charts and also offers several unique features. With Google Analytics, you can invite users to view your site statistics in read-only mode, track file downloads from your website, have daily reports sent to your email address in PDF or Excel formats, track external links that visitors are clicking to exit the website and more. Google Analytics is clearly the most comprehensive visitor tracking software recommend for all sites since it even preserves historical analytics data which is quite essential for measuring the performance and improving the website rankings. Awstats - This is not exactly a web analytics program but a log analyzer that extracts data from raw server logs and converts them into more meaningful reports that are pretty easy to understand. Awstats is not for users of Blogger, Geocities, or Googlepages since these free services do provide access to visitor logs. Instead, the program is for people who are self hosting their websites and have control over logfiles. While Awstats will not provide real-time traffic data for your site, it saves you from embedding that Javascript snippet in your webpages which sometimes increase the webpage loading time. And it can help you track non-HTML content like favicons, images, etc that are consuming your site bandwidth. FeedburnerFeedBurner - This wonderful RSS company which will soon become a part of Google, does provide a free a blog statistics tool that is integrated with your FeedBurner account. While you get the standard details from FeedBurner site statistics, the advantage here is that one service is keeping track of your blog audience as well as RSS subscribers. That makes life a bit simpler. Concluding Thoughts If you have relatively low traffic and want real time stats - go with Statcounter. It also provides an HTML version of tracking code for tracking sites that do not permit Javascript (like Flickr, MySpace, etc) If you have a large site with fairly high traffic, get Google Analytics. There's a small learning curve involved but you'll absolutely love this software once you master it. Finally, if you have hosted the site yourself (say on DreamHost or Media Temple), install Awstats package and setup a cron job that runs at midnight daily. You will be amazed to see the detailed visitor reports that popup on your screen every morning.


Microsoft Surface hands-on

If you're any kind of nerd you probably already caught Microsoft's Surface at this point. We don't have a lot to add with our little photo gallery, but damned if this wasn't one of the coolest technology demoes we've seen in long while -- bugs and all. Oh, and for those wondering, all the trickiness in getting the Surface demo tables to identify the objects resting on it wasn't due to NFC or RFID (yet, anyway); the Surface demo unit instead uses a visual code identifier on the bottom of each object, and behaves accordingly. We want.


Palm's Ed Colligan: Foleo is the Wii of portable computing

We've seen Jeff Hawkins' -- the synaptic guns behind the Palm Pilot, Handspring, and Treo -- take on the ill-received Foleo. Now we've got the thoughts from his boss, Ed Colligan, CEO of Palm, Inc. As you'd expect, Ed totes the party line with the "mobile companion" spin. He even compares it to the PS3 vs. Wii battle, citing "technology overload" as the mysterious (and massively oversimplified) force that will drive people to Palm's new platform. Ed also told us that Palm will be providing the tools to developers after which he expects, "very quickly, there'll be thousands of applications" for the Linux-based Foleo. Hey Colligan man! We get it, but we still don't think it's a good idea. Though if only for nostalgia sake, we'd love to be wrong. See the video after the break.

Continue reading Palm's Ed Colligan: Foleo is the Wii of portable computing


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Computers Outperform Humans at Recognizing Faces

"According to the recent Face Recognition Grand Challenge, The match up of face-recognition algorithms showed that machine recognition of human individuals has improved tenfold since 2002 and a hundredfold since 1995. 'Among other advantages, 3-D facial recognition identifies individuals by exploiting distinctive features of a human face's surface--for instance, the curves of the eye sockets, nose, and chin, which are where tissue and bone are most apparent and which don't change over time. Furthermore, Phillips says, "changes in illumination have adversely affected face-recognition performance from still images. But the shape of a face isn't affected by changes in illumination." Hence, 3-D face recognition might even be used in near-dark conditions.'"

(Source: Slashdot)


Microsoft's new "Surface Computing" tables

PopularMechanics has video and details of Microsoft's new "Surface Computing" tables.

The included video includes an interview with Jeff Han, well known for his multitouch demos. Microsoft's solution appears to have significant improvements with wireless interfaction with physical objects.

Gattis took out a digital camera and placed it on the Surface. Instantly, digital pictures spilled out onto the tabletop. As Gattis touched and dragged each picture, it followed his fingers around the screen. Using two fingers, he pulled the corners of a photo and stretched it to a new size. Then, Gattis put a cellphone on the surface and dragged several photos to it — just like that, the pictures uploaded to the phone. It was like a magic trick. He was dragging and dropping virtual content to physical objects. I'm not often surprised by new technology, but I can honestly say I'd never seen anything like it.

The initial plans for the device are commercial ($5,000-$10,000) tables not intended for home users. "People will see it in public spaces like bars and restaurants and want to expand it into other environments."

Apple has incorporated Multi-Touch into the iPhone, which is expected to be launched at the end of June.

Update: Microsoft's official site for "Surface" is now available.

Update 2: Another Video from CNet.