Microsoft YouthSpark to Connect 300 Million Youth to Opportunity

Microsoft launched a massive campaign today to empower, educate, and provide opportunities for millions of young people on a global scale. As part of its campaign to be a good global citizen, Microsoft has introduced a new program called YouthSpark. The program will cooperate with businesses, governments, and nonprofits to create opportunities for young people worldwide.

YouthSpark Logo

In a live event hosted online today, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, talked about the initiative. Ballmer said, “Through Microsoft YouthSpark we are making a commitment to help 300 million young people around the world achieve their dreams by focusing our citizenship efforts and other company resources on connecting young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. We believe that working with our partners we can help empower young people to change their world, and we are committed to using our technology, talent, time and resources to do that.” Noting the global economic downturn and lack of trained workforce Brad Smith, Executive Vice President of Microsoft said, “Our next generation of citizenship will focus on the next generation of people. The global unemployment rate for workers younger than 25 is 12.7 percent, which is double the rate for the world as a whole. This is indicative of a growing opportunity divide between young people who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful and those who do not. We must work together to close the opportunity divide for youth and help secure the future of this generation and the future of our global economy.”

Microsoft plans to partner with nonprofits worldwide including GlobalGiving Foundation, TakingITGlobal, Telecentre.org Foundation and the International Youth Foundation, as well as regional nonprofits such as Silatech in the Middle East, The Trust for Americas in Latin America, AIESEC International in Europe, and the ASEAN Foundation in Asia. In the U.S. it plans to work with 5 charities including Boys & Girls Clubs of AmericaCity YearJunior Achievement USANetwork for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Year Up Inc. YouthSpark will offer students and teachers access to Office 365 for Education and Skype in the classroom, as well as other tools for teachers. To be honest, the programs they outlined today are so vast, it is truly hard to take it all in. On top of all the previous things mentioned, YouthSpark will also be offering the following:

• Partners in Learning. A professional development program for government officials, school leaders and educators to help them with new approaches to teaching and learning, using technology to help students develop 21st century skills.

• Microsoft IT Academy. A career-ready education program available to all accredited academic institutions, providing students with 21st century technology.

• DreamSpark. Free access to Microsoft designer and developer tools for students and educators, helping advance key technical skills during the high school and college years, a critical time in a student’s development.

• Imagine Cup. The world’s premier youth technology competition, which challenges students to apply their knowledge and passion to develop technical solutions for social impact, to develop engaging games, and to demonstrate innovation that can benefit others, local communities and the world.

• Students to Business. A program that matches university students with jobs or internships in the technology industry.

• BizSpark. A software startup program, providing young entrepreneurs with access to Microsoft software development tools and connections with key industry players, including investors, to help them start a new business.

Microsoft is also focusing on other citizenship efforts. Here are 3 initiatives they outlined in their press release today:

• Give for Youth, a global microgiving marketplace focused on raising funds for nonprofits that support youth causes around the world.

• Microsoft YouthSpark Hub, an online space where people can explore and access all the youth services, programs and resources provided by Microsoft and its nonprofit partners.

• Microsoft Innovate for Good, a global online community enabling youth to collaborate, inspire and support one another while using technology to make a difference in their communities.

Microsoft has definitely taken on a huge undertaking with these programs. Hopefully, word will spread and those who could benefit the most from this program will find the resource best suited for them. If you or someone you know would like more information, visit Microsoft’s website at http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/youthspark/.

Amazon to Compete against Google Maps with Its Amazon Maps API

After Google Maps made the folly of increasing its pricing, everyone is shying away from using Google Maps for their mapping solutions, and there could not be a better time for other players to launch a competing mapping solution of their own. Amazon took the cue, and has been quick to launch an Amazon Maps API, as part of its Amazon Mobile App SDK offering.

amazon-maps

Currently, the Amazon maps API is supported only on the Kindle Fire and the Kindle Fire HD devices. The new devices will also support location-based services through the Android location API, and a mapping service was absolutely necessary to complement those services.

The features on offer are pretty much standard, and include pan and zoom controls with an option for satellite view. The location API will be used to display custom overlays, as customized pin markers. Additionally, the Amazon Maps API also promises an easy migration from Google Maps.

The mapping data in this API is being provided by Nokia, as confirmed by Dr. Sebastian Kurme, a spokesperson for Nokia.

Amazon is licensing the Nokia Location Platform (NLP) for maps and geocoding.

Amazon´s decision to choose the Nokia Location Platform is further proof point that our competence in this space is a key differentiator also for other leading players in the industry to offer great location consumer experiences.

Currently, the public mapping space is dominated by Google at large, with Open Street Maps being its only competitor. Device and platform specific maps are provided by Apple and Nokia as well, but Nokia is clearly emerging as a major enterprise-mapping provider with most of Yahoo maps, Bing maps and now Amazon Maps being powered by its map data.

The Amazon Maps API is in its beta state currently, and requires developers to apply for access through the Amazon Mobile App SDK portal.

Google Claims Breakthrough in Cognitive Computing, Neural Network Learns to Search for Cat Pictures

It has been over 60 years since the term AI was first coined. Since then, the elusive human brain has fascinated us with its learning capabilities. The massively parallel network of synapses and neurons is practically impossible to replicate and that is why, there is no public record of a human brain being fully replicated with its full learning capabilities. The human brain has not gotten any better at improving itself in the last 60 years either (you can blame evolution for being slow), but we have created wonders using this brain, and “computational power” is undoubtedly one of those wonders.

Google_X_Neurons_Cat

But, what if we can build a machine using computational power that has the same learning capabilities as that of the brain? There are a number of limitations to that, though the biggest limitation is the remarkable power efficiency of the human brain. The cue is in massive parallelism. Currently, there is a well-known project by IBM known as the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE), which aims to achieve this goal in AI with its DARPA funding and IBM expertise. However, Google just sped ahead of IBM in AI, with its research at the Google X laboratories. Google’s neural network is built out of 16,000 computer processors, and is capable of performing complex tasks. One of those complex tasks is looking for cute cat pictures on the Internet, and the impressive fact is that the network has learned to search for these pictures on its own, without it being told to do so.

Daily Tech reports this, saying,

Thanks to the wealth of cat videos on YouTube, the cyber-brain eventually came to a single dream-like image representing the network’s knowledge of what a cat looks like.  The network was able to then able to recognize its favorite thing — cat videos, no matter what subtle variations merry YouTubers come up with to their feline’s appearance.

In short, although rough, the network has successfully simulated the human visual cortex. David A. Bader, the Executive Director of High Performance Computing at Georgia Tech College of Computing claims that the visual cortex can be simulated fully within this decade.

Google Gets Possessive About Android, Doesn’t Want Alibaba to Steal It

In a recent blog post on the official Android blog, Google is touting the importance of compatibility in the Android platform. Android is released under the Apache Open Source License, and its source is available at http://source.android.com. Google has spent a number of years nurturing Android, and bringing it to its present state. It has successfully created an ecosystem around Android, which has changed the mobile market, made it highly competitive. Today, we see smartphones with unmatched processing powers. A huge part of this growth can be attributed to Android, and Google has a right to be protective about Android.

alibaba

However, as Alibaba thought of forking Android and build a business around it in collaboration with Acer, Google got possessive about Android and threatened Acer’s position in the Open Handset Alliance. This shows how Google dominates the Android ecosystem, and what seems to be an open source mobile OS, is clearly in the possession of Google. Both Alibaba and Google are making mistakes of their own here. Alibaba does not want to accept that its mobile OS is an Android fork, and Google wants Alibaba to join the Open Handset Alliance. However, Alibaba is probably forking an open source project without giving back, and Google is threatening Acer (Alibaba’s partner) to save the Android ecosystem, especially the Open Handset Alliance, which can take a blow from this move by Alibaba. It is hard to decide who is less wrong here.

In China, Alibaba is the equivalent of Amazon and its business is about to zoom past that of Amazon and eBay. Alibaba entered a partnership with Acer for an Android device, the CloudMobile A800. This device was supposed to be powered by Aliyum OS, a fork of Android. Aliyum was developed by AliCloud, a subsidiary of Alibaba. Although Alibaba claims that Aliyum is not related to Android, Google claims that it is indeed based on Android and it has been seen that Android apps run fine on Aliyum too. Aliyum already powers two smartphones in China. Clearly, Google has a reason to be worried but the outcome of that worry should not be an anti-competitive move like this.

Countdown for the iPhone 5

With Apple’s iPhone 5 (if that is what it will be called) release just hours away, I am so excited that it is almost like my birthday and Christmas coming together. After Steve Jobs passed away last year, many people anticipated the new iPhone to be Apple’s 5th generation phone. As we know, it was not to be. The iPhone 4S, though innovative and exciting, lacked the punch that many anticipated. The iPhone 5 however has the makings of a hit product.

According to sources on the web, the next iPhone “was the last project that Steve Jobs was intimately involved with from concept to final design.”

As the web is awash with rumors and counter rumors, Apple stocks (AAPL) were at an amazing high of $683.29 on Monday. This high stock price might also have been contributed by its win over Samsung on the patent case. As the iPhone 4S sales have been slack of late, it clearly points to a large anticipated demand for the iPhone 5. Its release date on the 21st of September may break sales demand. Its competitors will find such demand difficult to beat in the market. Analysts are predicting that the new iPhone 5 might sell up to 10 million units in the first weeks after its launch, breaking the record 4 million iPhone 4S units sold in the first week.

Amazing things are being said about the iPhone 5, including it being responsible for the economy recovery. I just love the optimism a new gizmo brings, but who is complaining.

The iPhone 5 is expected to come in a 16 GB and 64 GB model. Some rumored features include NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows you to pay with your smart phone, a smaller dock (a problem for current iPhone owners),  a bigger battery (possibly to support the retina display and faster processor), and the inclusion of fingerprint security too. A longer end-to-end screen is expected as well. This is keeping pace with the current trend of bigger, better, sharper displays from other smart phones too.

The part that I find most interesting, is the new headphones that are supposed to be launched as well. After years of the same old look, it will be interesting to see how futuristic Apple will get with these. Another interesting rumor that I have heard is that the iPhone 5 will be able to capture 3D images.

The new iPhone 5 is supposed to include support for 4G networks as well. Think about a virtual world where there is no more buffering required. You can watch high-definition movies in minutes and no need to buffer all those amazing TV programs.

Apple fans are already on a high looking for signs about the new iPhone. Apple has not been far behind leaving little clues for their fans as well.

For example, consider the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco that has been given an Apple makeover for the release.

On the website MacRumours, cryptologists spotted how the banner took the form of Apple icons – in particular Game Centre, iTunes, and the Music and App Store – when you shrunk the image down (source: dailymail).


While most of the icons are familiar, there is an unknown entity that has been spotted. It may be the new streaming service that Apple was rumored to be developing to counter Pandora and a host of other music streaming services.

In other news, the so-called mini iPad is also thought to be showcased at the event.

Godaddy Sites Back Online After Outage

A large number of websites that were either hosted or using GoDaddy name servers went down for more than four hours today following an outage in their DNS server. GoDaddy has been working to fix the issue and now it looks like almost all sites are back online.

There are speculations on what caused the glitch with some blaming it on the online vigilante group, Anonymous. A Brazilian twitter user loosely affiliated with Anonymous even tweeted the following, taking responsibility of the outage.

I’m taking godaddy down bacause well i’d like to test how the cyber security is safe and for more reasons that i can not talk now.

GoDaddy has been in the receiving end of similar attacks by Anonymous after their support to the infamous anti-piracy bill SOPA. But we are not yet able to verify whether this outage was a result of any kind of attack and there’s a good chance that this might just be a glitch in their DNS configuration. GoDaddy, while not mentioning whether the outage was a result of a DDoS attack, has tweeted that there was no compromise of user data.

WIRED is also reporting that GoDaddy has migrated some of the DNS records to VeriSign following the outage. It is not yet clear whether they are migrating the whole DNS configurations from the affected server or just the one for GoDaddy’s website which was also affected by the outage.

5 Reasons to BYOD to Work

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is the new frontier for companies, who after outsourcing low-level and non-core business activities elsewhere, moved to outsourcing their office hardware to their employees. The productivity gains of mobile working using BYOD from any place, provides a practical solution to the more tech-savvy employees who put in more hours of work as a result.

Reason 1: Save costs

The costs borne by the employee are not limited to the device cost, but also extend to the cost of the data plan and voice services. These costs are substantial when the company takes care of it. However, given the growing number of unlimited data and voice calling plans, a more cost-friendly BYOD culture can be implemented. Using new innovations like virtualization, companies can extend their services to their employee’s smartphones as well. For example, DaaS (Desktop as a Service) provides an employee access to their desktop virtually on their personal hand-held device.

Reasons 2: No one minds

The best part of it for companies is that employees are not complaining. In fact, think about the times you reply to mails from your personal BlackBerry using your data plan. You don’t mind because of the convenience it brings you. Perhaps our digital addiction has an added advantage for the corporate here. In addition, wouldn’t you prefer using your ultra-amazing Mac over the IT-department issued laptop? A report by Good Technology State states that half of those surveyed for a BYOD paper match a recent Forrester report finding.

“More than half of US information workers pay for their smartphones and monthly plans, and three‐quarters pick the smartphone they want rather than accept IT’s choice.”

Reason 3: Better devices

The advantages are not limited to just costs. The employee’s device would also be more cutting edge as they would have invested considerable thought and research into their decision to buy that device. With the economic down turn looking to take more time to move into recovery mode,  the motivation for companies to start using BYOD has just begun.

Reason 4: Easy on-boarding

The employee will not have to spend time getting used to a new device and environment. The IT department is also spared time and expense carting equipment all over the work place. After the network connection and  credentials are provided, the employee should be ready to hit the ground running. In addition, companies have started using MDM (Mobile Device Management) to manage governance and privacy of data.

Reason 5: Era of Tablets and Smartphones

The era of tablets and smartphones has just begun. As they permeate into our personal lives stronger than ever, we can be certain that it is just a matter of time before they become fixtures at work as well. They might actually be the precipice of the BYOD culture going main stream.

McAfee Reveals 2012’s Most Dangerous Celebrity

Emma Watson
2005 Fan Photo of Emma Watson (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

McAfee has posted its annual “Most Dangerous Celebrities List” for 2012 and has revealed a surprising result. The darling Emma Watson has bumped off previous winner, Heidi Klum, to capture the title of “Most Dangerous Celebrity” to search for on the Internet. Miss Watson is best known for her role as Hermione in the blockbuster Harry Potter films. A screenshot of McAfee’s webpage can be seen below. I believe they may have been a little surprised to see the sweetheart top this list, then again, they have probably seen a lot of crazy stuff researching Internet security.

Emma Watson Banner
Screenshot of McAfee’s Webpage

This is the sixth year that McAfee has undergone the task of researching pop culture icons on the web and assessing the risk they pose to web surfers. Cybercriminals seem to know who the hottest targets are on the web and they exploit celebrities’ popularity to seek dishonest gain. Emma was not the only dangerous search. There seemed to be some patterns. For instance, searching for female celebrities proved to be more dangerous. Only one man showed up in the top 20 of the list and that was Jimmy Kimmel. Latinas were also particularly hot search topics.

“In today’s celebrity culture, consumers expect to be able to go online to catch up with the latest photos, videos, tweets, and stories about their favorite celebrities. Due to the richness of the data and the high interaction, often times consumers forget the risks that they are taking by clicking on the links,” said Paula Greve, director of web security research at McAfee. “As the sophistication and expectations of consumers with respect to their online experience has increased, so has the level and ability to deliver malware either by malvertising, exploiting the user’s browser without their awareness, or masking malicious URLs behind shortened URLs.”

The web can be a dangerous place folks and it should never be assumed otherwise. For more information about the Top 10 Most Dangerous Celebrities, visit McAfee’s website at http://home.mcafee.com/root/landingpage.aspx?lpname=MDCeleb_SA&affid=0&culture=en-us&cid=81617.

Google Doodle Honors 46th Anniversary of Star Trek

Star Trek Doodle

Google commemorates 46 years of Star Trek with a really cool animated doodle today. I won’t give away all the secrets, but will say take a moment to move your mouse around the doodle and look for the highlighted areas. The doodle does a great job of capturing the drama, sound affects, and some of the corniness of Star Trek.

Star Trek was the brainchild of Gene Rodenberry, an American screenwriter and producer. It is hard to believe, due to the incredible popularity Star Trek enjoys today, but its beginnings did not go quite so smooth. In a sense, Star Trek was far ahead of its time both literally and figuratively. The original series only lasted from 1966 to 1969 and enjoyed meager ratings. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they began to enjoy a cult following and the reruns gained popularity. This eventually led to a whole new enterprise of movies and shows. Oddly enough, though nominated for several, Start Trek never received an Emmy award.

I know that my appreciation for Star Trek didn’t develop until I was much older. I was much more drawn to the light sabers and shootouts of Star Wars as a child. However, as I got older and had the chance to watch Star Trek again, I realized that the characters on the show were very good. There’s no doubt that Star Trek was more cerebral than many of the other science fiction shows of the 70s and 80s. I especially loved the spin-off shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

The Star Trek series can teach us a lot today, I believe. While the theme of the show was to search space as “the final frontier”, I believe the show crossed a much more important frontier. The frontier I refer to is that of human understanding and tolerance. The crew of U.S.S. Enterprise set out to boldly explore and learn from other cultures. As they followed their prime directive, they didn’t seek to interfere with culture, but simply to learn from them. This put them in difficult predicaments at times just as it does for us here in the real life. I believe we would do well to honor the legacy of Star Trek by taking a moment to assess our view of the world around us and learn not only to tolerate people, but to respect them as well. In the words of Spock, I end with this wish for you to “live long and prosper”!

 

Amazon Launches New Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD Variants; Priced at $159 to $499

Amazon has launched three new Kindles at its event today, and it’s not done. It also launched two new variants of the Kindle Fire, which has been one of the most popular tablets in the last year. The Kindle Fire has been refreshed with better hardware, and Amazon also launched a Kindle Fire HD with a bigger display and even better hardware.

Amazon Kindle Fire

The new, refreshed Kindle Fire comes with a 7 inch display, a faster processor and twice the amount of RAM in the original Kindle Fire. It has also dropped the pricing down to $159. The refreshed Kindle Fire starts shipping from September 14.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD

Here’s the more interesting part. It also launched two new versions of the Kindle Fire HD, with 7 inch and 8.9 inch displays, and some really good hardware under the hood.

The 8.9 inch Kindle Fire HD features a larger display with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels, and a display density of 254 ppi. It is powered by a TI OMAP 4470 and includes stereo speakers. It also offers dual band Wi-Fi support for better connectivity and new MIMO technology.

The 16 GB variant of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is priced at $299. The 16 GB variant of the Kindle Fire HD 7 (with a 7 inch display) is priced at $199. Amazon will soon reveal the exact difference between the two in terms of hardware specifications.

Besides these three, Amazon also unveiled another variant of the Kindle Fire HD. It announced a Kindle Fire HD (8.9 inch) with 4G LTE bundled in at just $50 per month. This 4G Kindle Fire HD comes with 32 GB of internal storage, and is priced at $499, at par with the entry level iPad. The Kindle Fire HD variants will ship on November 20.

via The Verge