Chances are, your hard drive is packed with important relics—the first email you sent your spouse, the photographs of your grandma’s 80th birthday, the documents you read for your senior thesis. The data you’ve accrued plays the same role as albums full of pictures, letters, and sentimental objects might have for earlier generations: it constructs a narrative about your progress through life. Or at least it could, if there were a way to have it automatically organized.
This personal data-mining is what what Facebook’s Timeline feature aims to do, but the Timeline is curated manually by the user, includes only files you’ve uploaded to Facebook, and is public, for all your Facebook friends to see (and maybe there are some events in your life you’d like to remember without the whole world peering over your shoulder). So we were interested to read about Lifebrowser, a product being developed in Microsoft Research that automatically arranges your hard drive’s files into a timeline, using machine learning to discern which of them represent landmark events.
What’s the News: Computers are hot. Too hot, really, for their own good—not only can laptops burn users’ thighs, but big clusters of servers require constant air conditioning, leading cloud-computing companies to consider situating them in places like Iceland to save on costs.
On the other hand, for part of the year in a good chunk of the globe, humans are cold. Analysts at Microsoft Research wondered whether they couldn’t somehow make these two things match up.
“Don’t track me, bro!”
If you’ve long been a fan of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” registry, allowing people to opt out of telemarketing campaigns, the good news is that FTC has taken the first steps toward such a setup for the Internet. Jon Leibowitz, the FTC’s chairman, pitched in a report this week (pdf) the idea of implementing some kind of “do not track” option that would allow people to easily say no to having their online behavior tracked and used for purposes like behavior-based advertising. The bad news is, both legally and conceptually, is that it would be a more challenging idea to implement than “Do Not Call.”
Rather than submitting their names on a centrally maintained list, consumers would use a tool on their Web browsers to signal that they do not wish to be tracked or to receive targeted advertising. Leibowitz said Google, Microsoft and Mozilla have all experimented with do-not-track technology on their browsers. [Washington Post]
There may never have been this many people this excited about white space.
Today the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission agreed to the rules that will allow unlicensed use of the empty space between TV channels (available now that TV has gone totally digital), and opens the door to super wi-fi networks whose reach could be measured in miles.
Unlike current Wi-Fi airwaves, whose reach can be measured in feet, the spectrum that would carry Super Wi-Fi would be able to travel for several miles because of that lower frequency. Through brick walls, even—something your Linksys really struggles with. [Gizmodo]
Skyhook, the tiny Massachusetts company that created the location software in your iPhone, sued Google this week (pdf). David is charging Goliath with trying to keep its software out of Google’s Android mobile software platform in favor of Google’s own location service, and with encouraging Skyhook’s partners to break contracts.
In other words, Google is leveraging its OS market share to push its own affiliated products and snuff out competitors — kind of like Microsoft did with Internet Explorer on Windows 15 years ago. Yikes. [Wired.com]
Google says it hasn’t had the opportunity to review the legal action, so it has yet to comment.
Henry Edward Roberts didn’t set out to kick-start the computer revolution. He was just trying to get out of debt.
Roberts, who died yesterday at 68, was an Air Force man in his younger days and a medical doctor in his later ones, but it was the middle part of his life that changed the world. In the mid-1970s, Roberts started a company call Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), and in 1975 introduced the Altair 8800—one of the first computers available and affordable for home hobbyists.
When Popular Electronics magazine featured him and the computer on its cover, it caught the attention of two young computer-philes, Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Gates and Allen quickly reached out to Roberts, looking to create software for the Altair. Landing a meeting, the pair headed to Albuquerque, N.M., where Roberts’ company was located. The two went on to set up Microsoft, which had its first offices in Albuquerque [CNET].
After being bypassed and outclassed by other companies in the mobile-technology space, Microsoft has announced plans to chuck its old Windows Mobile operating system and start afresh with the Windows 7 Phone Series. Judging by company’s big reveal at the Mobile World Congress–and the ensuing buzz in the blogosphere–the rebooted Microsoft phone may already be a surprisingly strong contender.
After the successful launch of Windows 7 operating system last year, Microsoft announced on Monday that the company will soon be launching its Windows 7 Phone Series. No date was mentioned at the Barcelona announcement yesterday, but some expect the phones to be out in late 2010–just in time to be a holiday offering. The Windows Phone 7 launch caps a year of product launches met with critical praise. There was the launch of Microsoft’s impressive new search engine (Bing), a popular new operating system suite of cloud-based products (Office Web Apps), and a revitalized Web presence (MSN.com) [PCWorld].
At the phone’s launch at Mobile World Congress 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the operating system will integrate deeply not just with current social networking sites likes Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn but will also bring Xbox LIVE games and the Zune music and video experience to the mobile phone. With this phone, the world’s largest software manufacturer hopes to make a serious dent in a consumer market already populated with Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry, and phones using Google’s Android operating software.
A few bloggers who got their hands on the Windows 7 Phone Series report breathlessly that the display is like nothing they have seen before. The interface, they say, is clean and simple with no busy backgrounds, no drop-shadows, shaded icons, or faux 3-D. The whole look is strangely reminiscent of a terminal display (maybe Microsoft is recalling its DOS roots here) — almost Tron-like in its primary color simplicity[Engadget].
With NASA’s manned space flight program in tumult, it’s an open question when/if human boots will tramp on Martian soil. But the space agency has provided a virtual way for humans to explore the red planet, with its new “Be a Martian” program.
The online project, a collaboration between NASA and Microsoft, enlists the power of crowdsourcing. Users are invited to sort through the hundreds of thousands of photos of Mars that have been sent back by rovers and orbiters. To convince people to spend hours pouring over pictures of dusty Martian landscapes, two tasks have been set up as games where participants can win points and badges. One game asks people to count craters in photos of Mars; the other asks people to match small, high-res photos of the Martian surface with their corresponding locations on a low-res photo taken from a higher altitude [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]. (You’ll need to have Microsoft’s Silverlight application for the games and videos on the site to work.)
By enlisting citizen scientists, NASA hopes to both interest students in space careers and to make real progress in Martian research. “We really need the next generation of explorers,” says Michelle Viotti, from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees Mars missions. “And we’re also accomplishing something important for Nasa. There’s so much data coming back from Mars. Having a wider crowd look at the data, classify it and help understand its meaning is very important” [BBC News].
80beats: Crowdsourced Astronomy Project Discovers “Green Pea” Galaxies
80beats: Mars Rover Will Try Daring Escape From Sand Trap of Doom
80beats: Would A Mission to Mars Drive Astronauts Insane? Six Earth-Bound Volunteers Aim to Find Out.
80beats: Buzz Aldrin Speaks Out: Forget the Moon, Let’s Head to Mars
Image: JPL / Microsoft