How to Safely Fry a Turkey, Avoid a Trip to the Emergency Room [Food]

Deep frying your Thanksgiving bird is all the rage, and for good reason: The results are delicious. Although that extra crispy skin is oh so tasty, frying without a little know-how is a recipe for trouble.

Instructables user Lextone looks like he's heeded the words of Alton Brown when it comes to frying up the perfect turkey for his Thanksgiving feast. He has detailed each step of the process to keep things super safe keeping everyone free from harm or injury.

To get started you'll need the following: a fryer and its accessories, a metal or fiberglass ladder, a two-foot piece of dimensional lumber (1x2 or 2x4), a pulley, and a length of 3/8" rope. The extra gear is intended to let you start your turkey fry without injuring yourself using a simple pulley system, and that's the focus of the guide, but it's littered with other safety tips, as well.

If you haven't tried frying a turkey, it's worth the time—just make sure to keep things on a level, unflammable surface and heed Lextone's advice and step-by-step instructions—which can be found in detail over at Instructables.

Have you tried your hand frying a turkey? Share your experience in the comments.




Google’s Chrome OS Will Attempt to Reinvent the Security Model [OStatic]

ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn has an interesting post up called "Crome OS will rise or fall on the safety dance." In it, he notes that there are a number of security initiatives in Google's upcoming operating system for netbooks, including "system hardening, process isolation, secure auto-update, verified boot, intuitive account management, defenses in depth, and devices secure by default." Indeed, one of the most ambitious aspects of Chrome OS is the tough stance that it will take on the security front. Here are some details on that tough stance.

Chrome OS is built to behave quite different from other operating systems, bypassing a number of types of boot processes and others in order to optimize performance. Additionally, however, the OS will actually reimage itself if malware is detected. If Google does this properly, Chrome OS systems may be free of the guaranteed performance decay that Windows systems tend to have over time. Every Windows user is used to how that decay creeps in as a system continues to be used.

However, Google is going to be banking on the idea that that users will like the idea of having a system reimage the instant malware shows up. Additionally, Blankenhorn notes that Chrome OS "has to develop an ecosystem of applications around itself that are themselves secure." That's true, if Google's end-to-end secure intentions are to be realized.

I've seen some posts going around on Chrome OS that characterize it as an easy OS to do, since it's only aimed at netbooks, and will work only with cloud applications, not the intricate workings of local apps. I don't think Google has an easy job ahead, though. Security is one of the primary areas where what Google wants to do will be difficult.

 

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Toys R Us finds hordes of fans on Facebook

toys r us facebookFacebook announced today that Toys R Us has become the fastest growing brand on Facebook, growing between 40,000 to 95,000 fans per day over the past week. Toys R Us recently released a new catalog on their Facebook Fan Page, called the “Big Book” and currently has 396,301 fans.

Unsure of the exact reason for the tremendous growth, Facebook “assumes it’s the result of an ad campaign,” juxtaposed with a number of features on the company’s Fan Page stimulating growth of new fans.

One of these features on the Toys R Us Facebook Fan Page includes a specialized one catering to the impending Black Friday that immediately follows Thanksgiving Day and is notoriously the biggest shopping day of the year. This “Black Friday Preview” application allows fans to find out what deals are available, and limits visibility of certain Fan Page tabs to fans alone — non-fans are forced to become fans in order to access certain tabs on the Toys R Us Fan Page.

From a technical standpoint, ContextOptional, the company that helped develop the Toys R Us Fan Page, didn’t use the standard “fb:visible-to-connection” tag in the Facebook Markup Language (FBML) for limiting visibility. Instead, it appears to use a customized simple application to verify whether a user is a fan or not.

According to Facebook’s predictions, there is a high likelihood that the Toys R Us Fan Page will reach over 400,000 fans by the end of today, which is typically only achieved using the “pay per fan” model. Although the growth in new fans decreases each day , Toys R Us has become one of the top brands across Facebook in a very short amount of time.

The success of the Toys R Us Fan Page might be a result of the rapidly impending holiday season, combined with the fact that marked down prices that are only visible to its fans. The large fan base could also be attributed to the continually growing demographic of new Facebook users in the 30-55 year old age bracket who are likely parents and/or grandparents of younger children, and therefore targeted Toys R Us consumers.


Google Calendar testing an easy event scheduler

google calendarA number of companies offer better ways to schedule meetings than the standard back-and-forth over email — Huddle, TimeBridge, and Presdo are a few that come to mind. Now Google is experimenting with a feature that tackles the same problem, though a bit less ambitiously.

Here’s how it works: When you create an event in Google Calendar, you can add a list of the guests that you’d like to invite. Then, if you have access to their Google Calendars, all of their schedules appear side by side, and you can drag a translucent bar representing the event around until you find a time when everyone is free. You can also view the calendars of just a few guests, if certain people’s schedules are more important. (See the screenshot above — yes, for illustration purposes, I’m scheduling an event with myself. That’s the magic of multiple Google accounts.)

Of course, the need for access to each person’s Google Calendar would be a pretty big hurdle if you’re trying to schedule all your meetings this way. This is probably most useful if you’re trying to set up get-togethers between a group of coworkers or friends. Still, in those cases this looks much more convenient than shooting emails back-and-forth, or even compared to looking at everyone’s schedule in the standard view in Google Calendar.

Right now, the feature is being offered as a “sneak preview” to a limited number of users. I’ve emailed Google to get some sense of how broad the current preview is, and will update if I hear back. If nothing else, it looks like I’m not the only tech writer who tried it out.


Maybe Mark Zuckerberg Won’t Hate That Facebook Movie After All

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 1.13.53 PM

Yesterday, Facebook’s Dave Recordon commented that he just finished a marathon session of The West Wing, a great show about the inner-workings of a fictional White House that ended its run on NBC in 2006. I agreed with Recordon, it was a great show. You know who else agreed? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

So why is this interesting? Well, the creator of The West Wing was Aaron Sorkin. He was also the executive producer and primary writer through the first four seasons. If you’ve heard Sorkin’s name in the tech sphere recently, it’s because he’s also the writer of the new Facebook movie, The Social Network, currently filming under the direction of David Fincher.

On his Facebook Wall, Recordon wrote, “Just finished watching all seven seasons of The West Wing for the first time. Sad that there isn’t more!” To which Zuckerberg replied, “I had the same feeling. It’s such an amazing show.

So Zuckerberg is clearly a fan of Sorkin’s work pre-The Social Network. But will he be a fan of the movie? That still seems unlikely given that it’s based on the Ben Mezrich book, “The Accidental Billionaires”, which paints Zuckerberg and his early Facebook team in a less-than-favorable light.

Still, with a Sorkin script and Fincher directing, there’s no doubt there is some great creative talent behind the project. On-screen, Zuckerberg will be played by Jesse Einsenberg (maybe best known for Zombieland and Adventureland, but better in The Squid and the Whale). Meanwhile, early Facebook President, Sean Parker, will be played by Justin Timerblake — something which interrupted a tech party Timberlake was to be at a few months ago in San Francisco.

Ah, the ever-tangling web of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

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Mega Machu Picchu Luxury Holiday Giveaway

The holiday season is approaching fast, and that means one thing here at TechCrunch: more giveaways! Sure, we’ve given away Twitter gadgets and wireless music systems, but this is definitely the best giveaway yet by a mountain peak. In fact, the winner will be climbing a mountain in Peru to the fabled Inca city of Machu Picchu. Well, you and a guest will actually be on horseback most of the way, and staying in WiFi-equipped luxury eco-lodges. But you can walk part of the way just to say you hiked the Inca trail.

This 7-day adventure for two, which is worth about $7,000, is being donated by the tour operator Mountain Lodges of Peru in conjunction with ekoVenture, a marketplace for “experience travel” (read our recent post on them). You can enter the contest here to win the trip by using the secret code “ilovetc” (and if you want to retweet this contest or share it on Facebook use the buttons above). Mountain Lodges of Peru is a past recipient of National Geographic’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime” award so you’ll be in good hands.

Man, I wish I was eligible. The contest ends at midnight Pacific Time on December 3. Everyone who enters will get periodic Photo of the Day emails from ekoVenture, but there is an opt-out link for those who don’t want it.

It’s going to be hard to top this giveaway, but if you are a company out there with ideas (and prizes) let us know. Nothing is too good for our readers.

Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.

How to get in on the Mobile boom

MeganBerry[Megan Berry works for mobile analytics and advertising company Mobclix.]

Does your business have a plan for mobile? How’s this for a novel idea: Don’t just go charging in to develop your own iPhone app. Take just a little time to consider what makes the most sense for your company. Mobile advertising can be a great way to get your feet wet, while building up a full mobile presence requires a bigger investment with the possibility of greater rewards and risks.

Mobile Advertising and Marketing

With mobile, your company has an unprecedented opportunity to, with one ad buy, reach your customers whether they happen to be in line at the grocery store, in their car, cooking, or at a restaurant.

According to Digital Life America, smartphone users have an income 50% higher than the national average, so they’re an attractive market to reach. Furthermore, a recent report by Telecom Trends International predicts that smartphones sales will overtake regular phones by 2015, so expect an expanding audience.

Many mobile advertising networks and exchanges are starting to offer highly accurate targeting for mobile campaigns. Choose between advertising on the mobile web, in mobile applications, or via other methods such as SMS. Mobile web and in-app advertising are growing dramatically as they become an increasingly effective way to reach a high-income consumer.

Many online ad networks are starting to offer mobile options, too. If you’re doing internet buys anyway, why not expand your reach to mobile? Furthermore, the small mobile screen means higher engagement as your advertising is front and center. If you’ve decided to advertise you have a few options to choose from depending on your goals.

In-app advertising is ideal for reaching the growing smartphone audience. The Apple App Market has 115,000 apps, and the Android market already has 13,000 according to a Mobclix App Snapshot in a recent SMART report. In-app advertising can allow in-depth targeting based not only on application, but also by behavior, demographic information, and location. For example, sports stores can choose to advertise on fantasy football apps, and brick and mortar stores can use location-based advertising.

Pros: Reach smartphones audiences in native apps, target your ads, measure conversions, rich media creatives, highly engaged users.
Cons: Only for smartphones with apps, best for iPhones and Android devices, no offline ad serving.

Advertising on the mobile web is a way to reach a broad audience. Many devices with small or non-existent app markets will support web browsing. Similar to in-app advertising you can target specific audiences and measure your engagement.

Pros: Access a larger audience.
Cons: Hard to build ads that will appear native on all devices, iPhone and Android device geared towards apps

Sponsoring an app: This way you leave the job of creating a top app to someone else, but still associate your company’s name with it. An example of this is the 50 cent “Baby By Me” sound lab that allows the user to remix 50 cent’s latest song, while prominently featuring Vitamin Water. This is much less common, but depending on your marketing strategy, might be a good middle way between banner ads and developing your own application.

Pros: Guaranteed success of being aligned with a top app. Reach a larger audience than with your own app.
Cons: Can be expensive, not your own app, success usually temporary.

Overall, advertising is a great way to try out the mobile space quickly and without committing major resources. Building a good mobile app, by comparison, can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000; and for many companies, that money would be better spent on an advertising campaign.

Many ad networks will allow you to start slow with a test campaign to see what kind of engagement levels you can reach. Plan to spend time developing your mobile creatives. With the limited screen space available, building a high-impact ad banner and landing page is key. You should consider building interactive ads or specialized campaigns that click to a coupon, call, or a map.

Extend your Internet Presence to Mobile

Nowadays, it’s unheard of for a business to go without a website; and it’s time to feel the same way about a business without a mobile presence too. Whether your business would be better served by mobile applications or a mobile web site, it’s time to start thinking about mobile as simply another way to reach out to your customers.

Creating a mobile version of your website can build goodwill and increase conversions among the smartphone set. Mobile internet usage is growing at a rate of 20 percent a year according to Mobile Marketer.

Depending on your site, it’s generally a smaller investment than a mobile app and will work on all devices, not just a given app market. If your audience is involved in mobile, then having either a mobile site or an app is worth considering.

Pros: Works on all devices that support web browsing.
Cons: Not as immersive as an app, harder to build buzz around it, content not as rich as website (no flash, etc.).

Building a mobile app is another option. When undertaking such a project it’s good to think about concrete goals for your app before simply rushing into it. What would be a successful app for you? An app that gets a lot of buzz, encourages users to interact and build brand loyalty, or an app that converts users into sales? These different goals result in very different apps.

You could build a fun app that gets users interested, an app that allows customer/business interaction, or an app focused on ecommerce. Ebay’s iPhone app is a great success story for an ecommerce app. It brought in $400 million this year, according to TechCrunch.

Adobe’s Photoshop Mobile is a successful app intended simply to build buzz and consumer loyalty. It’s a free app, currently in the top 10 free apps list, that allows users to play around with their photos. It encourages users to check out and upload to Adobe’s photo sharing site, allowing Adobe to extend its reach to mobile consumers.

Pros: Build customer loyalty and buzz, possibly include ecommerce.
Cons: Big investment, most such apps don’t make it to the top.

If you already have a web application, and/or software as a service, then extending your service or product to mobile can not only add value to your users, but drive signups and create buzz. For example, Salesforce built out Salesforce Mobile, an iPhone app that allows Salesforce users to access their information on their phone. There’s both a lite version that any Salesforce user can access for free and a full version that’s only for customers with unlimited or mobile licenses.

Cisco’s WebEx went a similar route with a mobile application that lets you join a WebEx meeting from your iPhone. Building a mobile component adds user value, as customers increasingly rely on their mobile devices; it also positions your company as the technology leader that is updating for the benefit of its users.

Furthermore, some companies are finding that mobile is becoming more important for them than web. Internet radio provider Pandora, created a mobile application in July, starting with the iPhone but soon moving on to Blackberry, Palm, and Android. Now, Pandora has found that almost half of first-time users are signing up via mobile devices and 24% of its total user base has a smart phone account, according to GigaOm. Building out a mobile service can greatly expand your user base.

What strategies does your business use to reach a mobile audience? Start serious discussions today. Your competition is probably already doing it.

Megan Berry is an evangelist for Mobclix, the industry’s largest mobile ad exchange, working on social media and marketing. She also blogs at The Huffington Post and the Mobclix blog. You can follow her on Twitter as @meganberry, or through the @Mobclix handle.


Are You Repelling As Many Clients As You Should? [WebWorkerDaily]

When you think about growing a business, you think about how to attract customers. You might build a web site, create marketing materials, and look for ways to get your message to the masses, but have you ever considered ways to repel clients?

Separating the wheat from the chaff is a big part of creating a successful business. As one Inc. magazine article noted, “A person ought to be able to…in five or six seconds have an idea of what you’re selling and whether it applies to them.” Weeding out those who are not well-suited for you and your business is just as important as attracting those who are.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, to see if you’re weeding out those who are less than ideal for you.

  • Is your web site a true (and bold) representation of you?
  • Do you clearly identify your ideal client within your web site?
  • Do you offer alternatives for those who might be less than ideal for you (e-books, products, referrals, etc.)?
  • Do you clearly outline your services, as well as those you do not provide?
  • Do you have a detailed frequently asked question section on your website to help prospective clients decide if you’re the best person to serve them?
  • Do you have a clearly defined niche market, and do you spend the majority of your time networking in relevant groups?
  • Do you have a succinct elevator pitch for when people ask you what you do?

Helping people quickly rule themselves in or out as potential clients for you and being willing to turn away work that’s not a good fit will actually improve your business over the long haul. You’ll be happier and more enthusiastic about the work you do, you’ll have more satisfied clients because of the improved quality in your work, and you’ll be more likely to acquire similar clients going forward.

What methods for screening do you have in place to help you turn away more of the wrong kind of work for your business?

Image from Flickr by visualpanic



Magazine Publishers’ Plans May Not Be Tablet-Specific [TheAppleBlog]


Source: Piper Jaffray

One of the strongest pieces of evidence in support of the existence of an Apple tablet has come into question today. Reports that Condé Nast, publisher of many magazine titles, including The New Yorker and Vogue, was preparing a digital format specifically for the Apple tablet may have overstated the case.

Instead, it looks like Condé Nast and others, including Hearst and Time Inc., are banding together to produce a digital distribution joint venture, which will likely resemble an iTunes store for the magazine industry. The store is apparently being designed with multiple platforms in mind, and not specifically targeted at a tablet device from Apple which may or may not actually exist.

A report in the New York Observer talks about the agreement between the publishing companies, and mentions in particular the fact that the idea is to produce a cross-platform product that’s portable between many different devices:

The company will prepare magazines that can work across multiple digital platforms, whether the iPhone, the BlackBerry or countless other digital devices. The company will not develop an e-book, but create something that people familiar with the plans compare to iTunes—a store where you can buy new and distinct iterations of The New Yorker or Time. Print magazines will also be for sale.

If the deal is successful, the interim president of the joint company John Squires says that an official announcement could be forthcoming within weeks, and other major publishers could come on board as well. That doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing a digital newsstand anytime soon, though. Publishers still have to figure out how to create digital versions of the content they aim to provide.

Considering the multi-platform ambitions of the plan, this might be quite a tricky process. Creating a product that remains uniform and recognizable across devices is a major challenge. The consortium simplifies the distribution portion of the equation, though, as a source explained to the Observer:

It’s pretty complicated stuff. The really, really hard part is that you’ve got so many different kinds of devices running on different operating systems. And how do you handle that? The consortium provides one point of contact for the consumer. When you come to the main store, you can get the content any way you want.

It’s possible that this is completely separate from Condé Nast’s plans for Apple’s tablet device, but the timing and nature of the digital distribution scheme make it sound like any tablet formatting may be incidental to a much broader initiative.

Device Doctor is a Free Driver Update Scanner with Promise [Downloads]

Windows only: Driver update utility Device Doctor finds outdated drivers on your PC, and helps you download the latest version—without charging you a dime.

Using the utility, which can be installed or used as a portable application, is about as easy as it gets—just click the Begin Scan button, wait a couple of seconds, and you will be shown a list of drivers that can be updated. The download button for each driver will take you to their web site, where you can download the drivers for free, without signing up for anything at all. Most of the drivers come with setup programs, but some of them are nothing more than zip files, and would need to be installed manually—hopefully something they can improve on in the future.

During our testing, we used the application on half a dozen PCs, and had varied results—on our XP test system, Device Doctor worked well and accurately found new drivers, but for Windows 7 we didn't have as much luck, with a few incorrect drivers being thrown at us. That said, Windows 7 was only released recently, so expect that support to improve in the future.

Device Doctor isn't perfect yet, but as a completely free, portable application that you can toss on your thumb drive, it's well worth a look. It might even save you some time searching for new drivers while you are fixing mom's PC.

Device Doctor is a free download for Windows only. Be sure to check out the full How-To Geek review for a more in-depth look, as well as instructions on installing drivers manually.




Tesla Model S Factory Deal “99.9% Done”: Downey Mayor [Earth2Tech]

Tesla Motors’ long-planned Model S electric sedan may finally get a home — that is, if property negotiations scheduled to take place tonight in Downey, Calif., go as planned. According to the town’s mayor, Mario Guerra, a deal that would see the electric car startup set up an assembly line for the Model S on part of a former NASA site there is “99.9 percent done,” The Downey Patriot reports.

One of the last steps toward locking in the plant (and bringing up to 1,200 jobs to the area) could be completed as early as tonight, when the Downey City Council is scheduled to vote on a memorandum of understanding with the Industrial Realty Group, which owns a portion of the 80-acre property, in a closed session. According to the City Council agenda, the price and terms of payment remain under negotiation for the site currently occupied by Downey Studios. But Guerra tells the Patriot that as of this week, “The deal points have all been agreed to,” by Tesla, the city and IRG. “Now it’s the lawyering stuff.”

Contacted by the Long Beach Press-Telegram late yesterday, Guerra told reporters “it would be premature to call anything a done deal at this point,” although “the city and private parties involved are indeed close to terms.” If remaining negotiations go smoothly, the Guerra told the Press-Telegram that a deal could be secured within 10 days. We reached out to Tesla this morning for confirmation of Guerra’s comments and an update on the site selection process, and spokesperson Ricardo Reyes told us “We have nothing to announce at this point.”

Downey’s chief competitor for the Model S plant is Long Beach, where Tesla has been considering a site formerly owned by Boeing. According to the Press-Telegram, the startup discussed the site with Boeing “as recently as last week,” and the city has not given up on the project.

When it comes to site selection for the Model S factory, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. Tesla initially said it would build an assembly plant for the vehicle in California. It later announced plans to set up shop in New Mexico, and then it was back to California again after the Golden State put together juicier incentives, including a tax break expected to save the company nearly $29 million.

But the clock is ticking for Tesla to stay on track with its production time line — deliveries of the Model S are slated to begin in 2011. The Department of Energy, which has awarded Tesla a $365 million low-interest loan to support the sedan production facility, said when it announced the loan this summer that it expects the vehicle to reach production volumes of 20,000 per year by the end of 2013.

Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors



What was the big news that happened in your sector in Q3? Catch up with GigaOM Pro's, "Quarterly Wrap-ups."

Facebook establishes dual-class stock structure

mark-zuckerberg1Facebook is establishing a dual-class stock structure, a move that could help pave the way to an initial public offering in the future. The company gave no time-line for such an offering and instead said it will help give current shareholders more power to guide the long-term vision of the company.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is converting all current shareholders to Class B stock, which carries ten times the voting power of Class A stock. Those shares will remain Class B shares unless the owner sells them during an initial public offering, when they will turn into Class A shares. A dual-class structure could make the stock less attractive to investors because they have weaker voting powers. Google structured its offering in a similar way, with two classes of stock.

A Facebook spokesperson gave this comment:

“Facebook is a private company so we don’t typically share details on stock-related matters. But we did introduce a dual class stock structure because existing shareholders wanted to maintain control over voting on certain issues to help ensure the company can continue to focus on the long-term to build a great business. This revision to the stock structure should not be construed as a signal the company is planning to go public. Facebook has no plans to go public at this time.”


BlackBerry Buzz: Media Sync Updated; Curve #1; Free YouMail on Sprint [jkOnTheRun]

It’s Tuesday and that can only mean it’s time for our weekly feature, BlackBerry Buzz. The Buzz is where you’ll find out what’s been going on in the BlackBerry brambles. You’ll hear about everything that’s worth knowing in the awesome world of the BlackBerry. Research In Motion released version 3 of the BlackBerry Media Sync today that adds two-way photo syncing, better memory management and alerts when new photos are available for import. There are other things added into the mix, so if you are a user of media syncing, you’d better pick up the new version.

The BlackBerry Curve was the top-selling smartphone in the U.S. in the third quarter, according to NPD Group. The Curve topped the iPhone 3GS and 3G, due to high consumer demand for the BlackBerry. Lower prices going into the holidays coupled with the BOGO (buy one get one free) promotion at Verizon accounted for the high sales numbers. My wife just got her own Curve, and she is very happy with the purchase as it is a very good smartphone. It is easy to see why RIM is selling so many Curves this season.

Sprint is now offering the YouMail visual voicemail service to BlackBerry owners for free thanks to the carrier’s change in conditional forwarding — there is no longer a charge for this service. YouMail works like visual voicemail on the iPhone:

  • You can scroll through incoming voicemail messages to see caller information including caller name, time of call, and length of message
  • Play voicemails by simply clicking on them
  • Share and forward voicemails as an email or post to a blog
  • Delete, archive or save voicemails, forever

You must download the YouMail app to your BlackBerry, which can be found in the App World.



Google Plans to Digitize Artifacts at Iraq’s National Museum

google_iraq_museum_logo.pngDuring a ceremony in Iraq's National Museum in Bagdad today, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt announced that the company will digitize the museum's collections. By early next year, all of these images will be available online for free. The museum lost a large part of its collection to looting in 2003. Except for a number of photo ops and press conferences, the museum has remained closed to the public since the beginning of the war in 2003. Most of the museum's collection remains in storage.

Sponsor

According to Reuters, the company has already taken 14,000 photographs in the museum. It's not clear how Google plans to present these images, though it seems as if Google plans a bit more than just a simple gallery of the photos it took. Eric Schmidt promises "a few surprises" for when the site launches early next year. Google and the U.S. State Department will share the cost of this project.

A Government-Sponsored Infomercial for Google?

While this sounds like a great idea, the New York Times also reports that there are also some interesting politics at play here. Parts of the museum's collections, for example, have already been digitized by Italy's National Research Center. This collection is already available online.

Today's event was sponsored by the US Embassy in Iraq, where, according to the New York Times, US Ambassador Christopher R. Hill described the digitization project as "part of an effort spearheaded by the State Department to bring technology to Iraq." Some of the invited journalists, however, argued that the event was nothing else but a "government-sponsored infomercial" for Google.

Discuss


Regator Brings the Best Niche Blogs to Your iPhone

Scott Lockhart used to tell his co-workers in the real estate industry that there was a lot of valuable information to be found by reading blogs. They, like all of us, would try blog search engines and end up frustrated with spam, abandoned blogs and low-quality content. So Lockhart quit his job and built an application he thought could solve that problem by unearthing just the most high-quality blog content concerning a wide variety of niche topics. In doing so, he stumbled onto one of the most important issues in the future of the web - the tension between controlled user experience and chaotic freedom.

Sponsor

That sounds crazy, but Lockhart's now three-person Atlanta company has actually done a remarkably good job of unearthing good content in a compelling user experience. Regator offers users a curated collection of high-quality sources on more than 500 topics, everything from martial arts to ceramics, aviation, cheerleading, law and Antarctica. Of course there are tech and business channels, too. Regator just got its $2 premium iPhone app into the iTunes store and it's the best "channel clicker" for niche content we've seen yet.

There's something a little bit odd about having the borders of your internet limited by someone else, but the Regator user experience is excellent otherwise. It's well designed and fun to use. User experience is key to making the web...usable. I've wished for years that more people got excited about sharing OPML files, bundled collections of dynamic RSS feeds, but that just hasn't happened.

Curation, bundles of content, discovery - these are functions of a prolific web that a new crop of services is trying to tackle with good design and tough decisions about openness versus...something else. Regator is an interesting entry into this place of tension and possibility.

The new premium iPhone app offers subscription to the selected blogs you like, video viewing, recommendations of related posts and issue tracking by keyword search. You can view the most recent posts from sources, or the most popular posts with other Regator users.

But is this just a pretty looking walled-garden? Regator brings to mind an admittedly paranoid but important blog post that consultant Chris Messina wrote this week called The Death of The URL.

"I see signs that the essential freedoms of the web are being undermined by a cadre of companies through the introduction of new technologies and interfaces that, combined, may spell the death of the URL...As a user experience designer, [the responsibility lies with] my discipline and peers to provide the right kind of ideas and leadership. If we get the design right, we can empower while clarifying; we can reduce complexity while enhancing functionality; we can expand freedom while not overwhelming with choice. Surely these are the things that good, thoughtful user experience design can achieve!

"If I were forced to choose between all the messiness of free will over the 'comfortability' of a contrived existence, I'd choose the red pill, time and time again. And I hope you would too.

regatoriphone1.jpgFrom WebTV to the tightly controlled iPhone app platform, though - these interfaces can be very compelling to use. One of the risks of a controlled platform, perhaps secondary to the inherent loss of freedom, is that whoever is in control might not do a good job of picking out what shows up. Editorial control risks conflicts of interest and a lack of broad editorial knowledge compared to what topic experts know. It's not an easy role to play.

Kimberly Turner is the editor of Regator's selection of blogs. She's a former magazine writer and she works with volunteer reporters and editors who suggest top blogs in niches when they have free time. Turner doesn't believe that Regator is guilty of the sins that Messina calls other companies out for.

Whether you're finding sites through Google's algorithm, the community votes at Digg or your friends on Twitter "we all use some service or site to help us find what we're looking for," Turner says "and those are all 'curated' in some way."

"Regator's human-powered curation is simply less likely to yield poor quality content than some others'," Turner contends.

regatoriphone2.jpgThousands of blogs are included on Regator already and Turner says new features like related posts and searches help users "explore and wander into fresh territory rather than getting stuck in a rut and going to the same small subset of blogs repeatedly."

So far there are 20 blogs in the wine category for example, just 1 in the beauty/nails subcategory, 4 hockey blogs, 22 law blogs, 3 blogs about cheerleading and 7 about Emergency Medical Services.

The service adds new sources based on user suggestions and other discovery methods. Turner says, "once a blog has established itself as a well-written and trustworthy source, we want to make sure it is included." The fact is, though, that if a blog Regator turns you on to then links to another related blog that's not included in the Regator index - you as a user cannot subscribe to it. If the company offered a "suggest" button next to its "share" button in the Regator browser, that could be helpful.

Does that sound reasonable? It's not as free-form and dynamic as other services. Collected.info, a new service for sharing and subscribing to other peoples' collections of feeds, is a particularly interesting recent entrant into this market from perhaps the other end of the spectrum. Both services take a little time to get your reading list set up well, but Regator delivers high-quality content from the start.

I like Regator and am already using the new iPhone app to discover interesting new content while on the go. A service that gives me access to fresh, high-quality content about ceramics, anthropology and museums with just a few clicks? Sign me up!

Still, there's something about the sources available being limited by someone else's choice. It's an interesting tension that may never be resolved - but is the basis for some very interesting software in the meantime. The Regator crew is right to identify as a problem the way people new to this social web struggle to find the best content. They offer a compelling solution to the problem. Time will tell which solutions catch on and what the consequences will be.

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank one of the companies that makes it possible for us to bring ReadWriteWeb to you.

Groupsite is a long-developed, feature-rich, self-serve, professional grade social networking and collaboration service. If you've got a group of people you want to facilitate online conversation between - you should check out Groupsite. We really appreciate Groupsite's support here at ReadWriteWeb.

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BitTorrent’s Future: DHT, PEX, and Magnet Links Explained [BitTorrent]

Last week The Pirate Bay confirmed it would shut down its tracker permanently, instead encouraging the use of DHT, PEX, and magnet links. This move confounded many BitTorrent enthusiasts, who were confronted with confusing new terminology and technology. Time for some explaining.

The Pirate Bay's recent confirmation that they had closed down their tracker since DHT and Peer Exchange have matured enough to take over, was coupled with the news that they had added Magnet links to the site. This news has achieved its aim of stimulating discussion, but has also revealed that there is much confusion over how these technologies work.

The key thing to understand is that nobody is being forced to use Magnet links or trackerless torrents. While these long-standing technologies may prove to be the future, they will co-exist with tracker-enabled torrenting for quite some time. For now, nobody will be forced to immediately change their existing downloading habits, although it may be wise to switch to a BitTorrent client that is compatible with these technologies.

In an attempt to clear some of the mystique surrounding DHT, PEX and Magnet links we will walk through all three briefly, hoping to assure those who've become confused earlier this week.

DHT and PEX in action

DHT

Using DHT instead of trackers is one of the things The Pirate Bay is now trying to encourage, and torrent downloads that rely solely on this technology are often referred to as "trackerless torrents." DHT is used to find the IP addresses of peers, mostly in addition to a tracker. It is enabled by default in clients such as uTorrent and Vuze and millions of people are already using it without knowing.

DHT's function is to find peers who are downloading the same files, but without communicating with a central BitTorrent tracker such as that previously operated by The Pirate Bay.

DHT is by no means a new technology. A version debuted in the BitTorrent client Azureus in May 2005 and an alternative but incompatible version was added to Mainline BitTorrent a month later. There is, however, a plugin available for Azureus Vuze which allows it access to the Mainline DHT network used by uTorrent and other clients.

Peer Exchange ("PEX")

Peer Exchange is yet another means of finding IP addresses. Rather than acting like a tracker, it leverages the knowledge of peers you are connected to, by asking them in turn for the addresses of peers they are connected to. Although it requires a "kick start", PEX will often uncover more genuine peers than DHT or a tracker.

Magnet links

Traditionally, .torrent files are downloaded from torrent sites. A torrent client then calculates a torrent hash (a kind of fingerprint) based on the files it relates to, and seeks the addresses of peers from a tracker (or the DHT network) before connecting to those peers and downloading the desired content.

Sites can save on bandwidth by calculating torrent hashes themselves and allowing them to be downloaded instead of .torrent files. Given the torrent hash – passed as a parameter within a Magnet link – clients immediately seek the addresses of peers and connect to them to download first the torrent file, and then the desired content.

It is worth noting that BitTorrent can not ditch the .torrent format entirely and rely solely on Magnet links. The .torrent files hold crucial information that is needed to start the downloading process, and this information has to be available in the swarm.

Pirate Bay links cf. Mininova links: When the Magnet link specification first came out, in January last year it called for a particular format ("base32 encoded"). The links that EZTV, Mininova and ShareReactor have displayed for some time all conform to that original specification. In May of last year the specification was changed, in favor of "hex encoding", and that is the format of the links being displayed by The Pirate Bay. Torrent clients should accept either format.

Compatible Clients

All the main torrent clients: uTorrent 1.8.5, Vuze 4.3.0.2, BitTorrent 6.3, BitComet 1.16, and Transmission 1.76 (and others) support Peer Exchange and DHT (via a plugin in the case of Vuze). Neither BitComet nor Transmission yet support Magnet links but Transmission is planning to include Magnet link support in the upcoming 1.8 release. Bearing in mind that no site, including The Pirate Bay, has yet abandoned support for traditional torrent files, there is plenty of time for support to be added.

We hope that this article has cleared some of the smoke that was generated by The Pirate Bay's announcements earlier this week. There is no need to panic, cry or be angry, and it's not a problem if you're still confused after reading this article. Torrents will still be available and aside from some extra downloading options thanks to sites that add Magnet links, nothing drastic will change in the near future.

TorrentFreak is a weblog devoted to all-things BitTorrent and file sharing. To get all of the latest from TorrentFreak, be sure to subscribe to the TorrentFreak RSS feed.


How the Nook Nicked B&N’s Q2 Numbers [GigaOM]


White-hot consumer demand for the new Nook e-book reader is proving to be a mixed blessing for Barnes & Noble. Sold-out pre-orders for the device were a rare bit of good news in an otherwise gloomy fiscal second-quarter report issued today, but chasing demand for the Nook is forcing the bookseller to hike its investment in manufacturing. Regardless, executives at the book retailer think the e-book game is one that Barnes & Noble can win, thanks to its size and market power.

In the near term, Barnes & Noble, along with other marketers of e-book readers, faces a serious hardware production bottleneck. The Nook, like Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and the upcoming device from Plastic Logic, is assembled by Prime View International of Taiwan, which controls the E-Ink technology used in nearly all electronic paper displays.

Increasing production of the Nook, therefore, is not simply a matter of Barnes & Noble sending a bigger purchase order. It must compete for displays and manufacturing capacity with Amazon, Sony and others, all of which are experiencing similar spikes in consumer demand for their e-book readers. Securing a bigger share of those finite resources could mean an increased cost-per-unit for Barnes & Noble.

Company executives on a conference call to discuss the latest results declined to say by how much they’re boosting Nook production but stressed that the increased investment reflects more than just the higher manufacturing costs. “It’s a whole capital investment in the market opportunity,” president William Lynch said. “It’s the content acquisition, it’s the people, it’s the in-store marketing. It’s everything.”

Despite the problems meeting demand, Barnes & Noble executives remain extremely bullish on the e-book and e-book reader category (for a more in-depth look at the company’s prospects in the space, see our GigaOM Pro report, How Barnes & Noble Can Avoid Getting Netflixed, sub. req’d). “This will be a multibillion-dollar business for Barnes & Noble,” CEO Stephen Riggio said. That’s partly due to the many barriers to entry facing new players, he said, among them content acquisition and aggregation costs, rights management, synchronizing products across multiple sales platforms and other challenges. “Digital content is going to be a much-less fragmented business than selling [physical] books,” Riggio said. In essence, when it comes to e-books, size matters.

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Amazon Announces Better Battery Life and Native PDF Support For the Kindle

Amazon announced some major changes to their Kindle e-book reader today. Specifically, it stated that they've worked out a way to increase battery life by 85%. That means that the new firmware update will allow you to leave your Kindle on (with the wifi active) for about 7 days before you need to recharge. Additionally, the Kindle will now support Adobe's PDF format natively. Previously, you had to convert PDFs in order to view them on the Kindle.